3.27.2014

Once Again, I Surrender (Post-Surgery Follow-Up)

Very early on the road of infertility I learned that emotions are not experienced in a mutually exclusive manner. Everything is a jumbled up mess all at once and can change in the blink of an eye without any warning or real explanation. When I say "I learned" please understand that what I'm really saying is: I fought it with everything in me, tried to force linear emotions that occurred one at a time, and I threw a lot of temper tantrums. I don't fight it much anymore, nor try to force the linear emotions. I do still throw temper tantrums occasionally.

Ahem.

So it is I find myself stuck between two emotions once again after my post-surgery follow-up with Dr. D.

There is the hope that comes from finding out my tubes are once again open (she did have to use the catheter wire to open both sides), the endometriosis that had returned was not as severe as the last time and overall things looked good. There are the good hormones from my latest hormone panel, the improved thyroid numbers (TSH is down to 1.14 - and I feel so much better!), the negative cultures (internal and external) and the ultrasound series that showed ovulation.

Numbers:
TSH 1.14 (was 4.02)
Free T4 - .94 (was .95)
Free T3 - 2.75 (wasn't checked before)
The frees still aren't great, but I figure with the testing that is most likely in my future (keep reading) this won't be the last check of these numbers. For now, I'm just glad to be feeling better!

There is hope that hasn't been there in a long time.

But.

If hope has been gone for a long time, a positive emotion without a "but" after it has been gone even longer.

There is the low post-peak estrogen and thin endometrial lining and the too-high DHEA (386.9 - but it was early in my cycle and she said they like to do it later in cycle. I didn't know that. DHEA was 148 when tested 2 years ago)) We are still waiting on 17-hydroxyprogesterone and testosterone levels to come back and then she may move forward with more advanced adrenal testing. There is a post-coital test that will be scheduled to make sure my body isn't killing or attacking The Man's "little men." I also asked to have my FSH tested to check my ovarian reserve as I turn 35 in less than 2 weeks, found my first gray hair last week, and was told by my eye doctor that I have early-stage cataracts. Any one of those on its own would have been stressful, the 3 combined has caused the ticking of my biological clock to become deafening and so I asked to have the FSH and pre-peak estrodial tested. Conveniently it was CD 5, so it was a good day to do so. There was also the phrase "chronic inflammation" which has me clinging to my ice cream like it's the last half-gallon on the planet. Finally, for now, there is the ticking clock of having to have my tubes opened for a second time and knowing they will most likely not stay that way.

Don't get me wrong, I am so grateful for all that has been fixed, ruled out, managed, etc. I am so grateful to have open tubes again and not be facing enough medications to require a full-time assistant to make sure I take them all on time. (At least not yet.)

It's just so hard.

Every fiber of my being wants to hope and be hopeful. To start thinking that it might actually be possible that we could conceive. But that is a scary thought.

I'm getting used to "Infertile Rebecca." I have my routine for each cycle and I know what to expect. I have hope, grounded in reality. For the last year, that reality was that my tubes were most likely blocked. There was little chance, save a miracle. I believed in that miracle. I rode a few crazy roller coasters because of that miracle. But, in 2013 alone, I also endured CD 1 on Mother's Day, on my goddaughter's baptism day (during Mass!), on Thanksgiving, and on Christmas. It's been hard to not take it personally.

I'm scared to go back to "Fully-Hopes-and-Thinks-Dreams-Come-True Rebecca." Petrified might be a better word. It took so much work to hold myself together through a year in which half of it I wasn't even on medications nor had any practical hope. It's easier to know it's not likely. It's easier to face the sorrow when it is what is expected.

I realize that I must place my trust in God.

To trust that He is capable of miracles.

To trust that He can lift this cross at any time.

To trust that He is enough. No matter what.

To trust that He is trustworthy.

And I realize that for all the "progress" I think I've made this year, it all comes right back to the same thing. Over and over again, always the same thing.

I am a stubborn woman.

Once again, I must surrender.

And as I write that, I realize that it was no coincidence that this follow-up appointment was on the Feast of the Annunciation.

Do I trust Him as Mary trusted?

I want to.

And so I shall.

I place myself in His hands and at His mercy.

I will embrace these new possibilities and pray that I am able to truly understand, in both my head and my heart, that He is enough.

Once again, I say:

Be it done unto me according to Thy word.

3.24.2014

Fruitfulness and Joy

One of the perks of my job, if you will, is that most of the time I get to hear excellent homilies related to marriage and family life types of things. Every once in a while, I'll be listening to a homily that a priest or deacon has prepared for a group of engaged couples and come to the realization that he isn't talking to the engaged couples, but he is talking to me.

This recently happened in January, with a newly ordained (less than a year) priest giving a homily. As I listened, at the end of a very long day for both of us, I was listening to the homily and thinking to myself: "This is good, but not the direction *I* would have gone with this." And then he gets to the last line and I realize, it was one of those times when he wasn't talking to the engaged couples, but he was talking directly to me. After Mass, he said something about not being 100% pleased with his homily and I told him I thought it was good. He didn't ease up on himself, so I finally said: "It's because you thought you were talking to the engaged couples, but you weren't. You were talking to me."

So, what did this priest say?

One, simple little line, that shook me as if there had been an earthquake:

The Latin word for "fruit" is the same as the Latin word for "joy". 

There had been some lead up to this about fruitfulness, that I admit to not remembering well now, but as I sat there, I had to fight the tears back, not because I thought this was an insensitive thing to say, but rather because I felt like so much made sense now that didn't before.

You see, part of my struggle with infertility is wondering why it hurts so badly. While there are so many reasons, there are times when this is all I can think/pray/cry about and to date nothing quite provided an answer that was satisfactory. Why does the absence of something hurt so badly? I'm not quite sure I can put into words this question and give it the full explanation of the emotions and disquiet behind it.

What I can say is that upon hearing that phrase, The Latin word for "fruit" is the same as the latin word for "joy.", gave me, for the first time an answer that started to make some sense.

As an infertile woman, I lack the fruit of my womb. I lack the joy of my womb. I lack joy.

This made so much sense, and while the tears were those of sadness, they were also those of deep understanding, of "now I see." They were the kind of tears that soothe and heal, all while increasing the wound.

Sitting in front of a chapel full of engaged couples, I had to quickly hide those tears and prepare to move on to the next thing. But those words, they stayed with me, each beat of my heart saying "yes! yes! this is part of the sorrow."

As the weekend continued and ended, I was still so touched by those words and I started to do a little bit of research to see if I could understand these two words better. Only, I kept getting tripped up and so I emailed the priest asking for some help (I was getting tripped up on the word joy, because I knew of only "gaudium" to mean "joy" and that was all google was giving me as well.). And here is what he sent back to me (I had already explained that his homily had touched me and why) - be sure to read the part I have bolded (it is my emphasis, not his):

Ok... this is a bit of etymology.  

Gaudium means "rejoice".  It also has variants, but most often in Ecclesiastical Latin it is translated as "rejoice".  The Latin language, like English, has many words that include the concept of "joy".  

Frui - comes from Latin frūctus meaning enjoyment, profit, fruit, and is equivalent to frūg-,  which is a variant stem of fruī  meaning to enjoy the produce of + -tus  suffix of v. action.

With this understanding, the phrase "fruit of thy womb" has a fuller meaning to include the act of experiencing joy as a result of bearing a child.  

Hope this helps.  I can elaborate a little more but I didn't want to be too esoteric. 

As I read the words, the same experience happened all over again - the tears that soothed and healed while increasing the wound. They verified the exact emotion I'd had when I first heard them in the homily, and now the longer explanation only confirmed.

And while this all may seem very depressing and just one more reminder of how awful infertility really is, for me it was validation.

Validation that these tears and this pain, that I can be very hard on myself for experiencing and that I question if it really hurst this bad or if I'm just being a wuss, are real. That a lack of something, specifically a lack of fertility, a lack of the ability to bear a child, results in a lack of joy as well.

I've written before about how I have to remember that God has incredible things planned for us. Incredible things, yes, that is His promise, but not necessarily in this life, for it is not this life for which we are made. Nowhere are we promised joy and peace in this life. It is a gift, one that we cannot earn nor deserve and to not experience it is not a punishment, rather a consequence of our fallen world.

And when the gift of the fruit of the womb is denied time and again, so too is the joy that would come as a result.

The challenge for me is to realize that the lack of this particular joy, while valid and painful, need not lead to missing out on all of the other joys in my life.

Or perhaps, the even greater challenge is to find joy in His promise and allow that joy to bear fruit in my life. To allow the sorrow I experience from infertility, the sorrow of my womb, to bring life to those around me. To remember that it is mystical fertility that matters more than physical fertility. To remember that the most life-giving action in the world came as a result of pain, suffering and sorrow, for the only fertility that matters is the fecundity of the cross.

Yes, fruitfulness is joyful. But sorrow and suffering can and should be fruitful as well, and therefore it is from my sorrow that I will, someday find joy.

3.21.2014

The Infertility - Marathon Analogy

I've shared this analogy with a few ladies who are "moms-after-IF". They have all agreed that it is accurate, so I will share it here, along with some additional thoughts. To those of you with whom I've had this conversation, thank-you for them. You've helped me to take it a bit further and given me the courage to share it here. It's not perfect, no analogy is, but this one seems to "fit" pretty well - for all of us, wherever on the road of infertility we are.

---------------------------------

Last year, I ran the Marine Corps Marathon.

I trained for it.

I signed up for it.

I mapped out the route (obsessively).

I lined up at the start line.

But...

When my legs hurt; when I was tired; when I wanted to just sit down and cry....

All of that was valid and real. Just as valid and real as if I had not trained for it.

Sure, I had perhaps a different perspective because I did sign up for it, than if I hadn't signed up for it and someone had just stuck me on a marathon route and said "go!".

I knew it was worth it. I knew finishing would make the pain worth it. But it didn't make the pain go away. Nor does it make the memory of it go away. Nor the impact of it.

And so it is with infertility.

For those who are still waiting for their outcome (be it biological children, adopted children, or no children), we signed up for our race thinking we knew the distance and the route, only it keeps changing. At some point we admit that we do not know how or when it will end, but we remain hopeful that God knows and is running alongside with us. Our friends cheer for us along the route and some run right along with us, encouraging us and telling us we can do it. Ultimately though, deep within us, we know that this is a race we must run on our own and ask for God's strength, love and patience to carry us through. Signing up for this race and continuing to run it in no way lessens the pain, difficulty, or struggle along the way.

For those who know their outcome (be it biological children, adopted children, or no children), they have come to the end of one race. But having children or embracing a life as two does not lessen the pain and struggle they felt along the way. It doesn't lessen the importance of those friends who cheered them on or who ran with them. If anything, it strengthen's those bonds because they can look back and see very clearly how those friends carried them through. Only, it strains that bond because some of those friends are still running the first race, and now they are on different race path.

For those who know their outcome, specifically for those who are parents. Who are now on another race path for which they signed up, not one that was chosen for them, it can seem easy for those still on the un-chosen race to say they have no reason to complain their legs hurt, or they are tired, or they just want to sit down and cry. I mean, they signed up for it, didn't they?

And yet, it is no less real than the pain and struggle of the race they didn't sign up for. Do they realize it is something they signed up for? Yes. Do they realize they have much for which to be grateful? Yes. Does it make it easier? Not necessarily. Will it make them a perfect runner in their new race? Not even close.

Having that medal around my neck eased the pain in my legs a bit temporarily, but it didn't go away. It took work to get over it, and I will never forget it. It is taking courage to begin running again, for fear that those leg cramps will come back. It is taking courage to begin running again because I know I finished once but I'm scared I wouldn't be able to do it again. Just because I "finished" doesn't make any of this less real, less valid, less important.

And so, to those of us still running the race of infertility, still wondering how long it is, what exactly the route is, and what the finish line looks like, we need and rely on the support of those who are cheering us on along the way, who are further along than us saying "you can do it!" and those who run along with us for a time. But, we also owe it to those who were once running the race with us, but are now running a different race, to cheer them on. To encourage them and to run along with them for a time, even if we are weary from our own race.

And to those who are running that new race, you need to be able to say "this is hard" and "this hurts" and "I just want to sit down and cry" and take comfort in the fact that your experience is valid and real, no matter how badly your longed for it or how easy or  hard your first race was. Please still cheer those of us in that first race along, validate how hard it is and be patient when we are out of breath and just can't see past how badly it hurts in that moment. And be patient with yourselves, honor all that was hard about the first race, how it impacts your new race, and honor all that is hard about your new race. Also, share your experiences with this new race, just as you did with the first race. Remember that many were learning from you and praying for you without your ever knowing it in the first race, and the same would be true in the second. Finally, share your joys in this new race. To those of us running this first race, we need to know that either parenthood is as wonderful and joyful and awesome (and hard and humbling and difficult) as we imagine it or that life as two is more wonderful and joyful and awesome (and hard and humbling and difficult) than we imagine.

3.06.2014

Spiritual Motherhood: Not Just for the Infertile Woman

I've been working on this for a long time and even as I hit publish I'm not sure it's quite right. I've come back to it, tweaked it, deleted it all together, and more. I even have a very eloquent post sitting in draft form that's been there for a while, you'll see it in a bit.

A couple of weeks ago, when we were in Texas for NFP Teacher Training/Enrichment, after The Man and I shared about infertility with the NFP teachers, we also spent some time looking at the structure of the third class we teach. This class has always included something about infertility and while it can be brutal (emotionally) to teach, it is important and a good lesson in dying to self is also important. I'm so glad that it was already part of what couples get when they learn Standard Sympto-Thermal NFP before The Man and I gave our presentation.

Ever since The Man and I started TTC it has gotten a bit harder and harder to teach this particular class though I couldn't quite put my finger on why. Through conversations that I've had with a number of people recently and then standing up doing a "what we teach in class 3 and why" presentation (instead of just teaching the class) it hit me. There is (was - it's been changed now) a transition from the slide about infertility to a slide about adoption and being open to life in other ways than just physical. What really stuck out to me about this is that adoption, volunteering, coaching little league, etc. are not to be reserved for those poor, unfortunate souls who can't "have children of their own." (I'm sorry, I'm hearing Ursula from The Little Mermaid in my brain...)


Anyway, I spoke up and it seems that most everyone in the room agreed and so the ordering of the slides was changed. That's the background on why this post and why now. Here's the real "stuff" I want to say.

I have long since really disliked the phrase "spiritual motherhood" - see? (this is the very eloquent post that's been in my drafts for, oh probably at least 6 months now)


I also hate the phrase "why don't you adopt"? But honestly that is a whole other post of it's own.

I want to say to the people who say these things to me (usually they are already parents): why didn't/don't you adopt? how about I take your kids and you can have spiritual motherhood?

(In order to not confuse two topics, I shall focus on spiritual motherhood here and just state that adoption is not just for the infertile couple either. I will also say that all of this applies to men and fatherhood as well, I will just mostly use mother and feminine pronouns to help keep this a bit easier to read.)

I, of course, do not say these things. I know (or at least I assume) people genuinely mean well and I realize this is just one more instance of it being about my pain. Only, in this case I think it needs some considering...

Is it really only infertile couples who are to adopt? Is it really only women who are infertile who are called to spiritual motherhood? Well, we'll count priests and sisters in there on the spiritual mother/fatherhood side of things, and of course people who are single, right?

But what about everyone else? You know, the people who marry and give birth to children? What about them? Are they exempt from spiritual motherhood?

I don't think so.

I don't remember reading anywhere in scripture that only those who aren't physically fertile are to care for the widows and orphans. I don't remember Jesus saying "when you infertile women visited the sick and fed the hungry, you did that for me." And even though the Catechism states that infertile couples should consider caring for orphans, it doesn't say only infertile couples should consider caring for orphans.

If we want to create a culture of life, to create a new humanity, I think that it's time every woman starts to ask herself, how am I called to motherhood? Is it physical motherhood? Is it adopting (Side Note: I suspect that adopting is much more in-line with physical motherhood than it is spiritual motherhood since after the child is born and then adopted (even if adopted older), there is very little, if any, difference. I admit I have no direct experience with either, but I can't help but think this way, my friends who have adopted, feel free to correct me if I am wrong.)

Many times every day, women are called to mother and men are called to father - regardless of their marital status or fertility. When I consider spiritual motherhood in this light, in the light of who I am as a woman rather than as an alternative to physical motherhood, I free myself to walk down the road towards it; to see how I live out this call that is part of my feminine genius. The enemy is smart though, for each time I take a step down this particular road, someone suggests to me that I can "always be a spiritual mother" or asks "why don't you just adopt?" and I stop and decide that I will not go down this road after all. This is evidence to me that I'm on to something here, that this isn't just the ranting of some bitter, infertile woman, but rather that if we all (myself included) truly stepped up to our call to care for one another, to be mothers and fathers to those we encounter, that it would have a tremendous impact.

I'm not advocating for an either/or here, it isn't physical mother/fatherhood OR adoption OR spiritual mother/fatherhood, but rather a both/and approach to openness to life. I'm speaking specifically about those called to the vocation of marriage (and I'm including those who are called to marriage but still wait for their spouse in with those of us infertile married people, as I have it on good authority this difficulty with the phrase "spiritual motherhood" applies greatly to them as well.) Someone called to consecrated or religious life embraces a call to spiritual mother/fatherhood alone, giving up physical mother/fatherhood for the sake of the kingdom, just as they are celibate for the sake of the kingdom. For the rest of us, again, myself included, we must open our hearts to both/and.

Et et.

(Edited to add: Usually I like to respond in an email message to comments, but I'm finding your comments are really helping me to work through this some more, so if you don't usually subscribe to comments, you might want to this time. Also, please read the comment thread if you have time, as I've already been able to have some more pieces of this puzzle filled in for me.)

3.05.2014

Lent 2014


Last year, I had a very spiritually fruitful Lent by stepping away from all things social media - blogging, Facebook, Twitter, everything. I thought a lot about doing that again this year, but what I came to realize is that while the fast was fruitful, come 6 months later not a whole lot had changed. So, this year, I'm going to take a little bit of a different approach.

I'm not going to Fast completely from social media, but I am going to make prayer a priority. I've said twice in the last 6 months or so to Fr. D. that "my prayer life is crap." He's given me suggestions, strategies, tips, "the look" and more. I've tried and failed and tried and failed again and again. The only way my prayer life is going to get better is if I actually make it better. I need to stop waiting for inspiration or the right conditions or the right time or or or. I need to just pray.

So, I'm sure my social media use will go down a bit because my first thought to myself is going to be "have I prayed in the last hour?" before I log in to any social media site. If not, then I will spend at least 5 minutes in prayer before continuing. It may be reading something, listening to some music, or just 5 minutes with the Lord, but whatever it is, it will be about building my relationship with Him and letting Him speak to me. My prayer will lead to fasting. I also fully intend to observe the guidelines for Fasting and Abstinence as well. I can be pretty lax about this and I'm determined to not mess it up this year.

I've also decided I'm going to write The Man 40 letters. On Easter morning, in his Easter basket alongside his chocolate (The Man gave up all white sugar - that's just crazy talk) and some good coffee will be his letters. These letters might be short or long, or song lyrics, or quotes. I'm not going to force length on myself, I'm just going to make sure he has 40 envelopes to open on Easter morning with my thoughts and feelings about how much he means to me and how much of a gift our marriage is to me. While it's not almsgiving in the sense of giving to the poor, I'm realizing that The Man has done so much giving to me in the past 3 years that He really has been neglected.

Finally, I have a few spiritual posts that I'm hesitating to publish. Mostly because they are still things I'm working through (Spiritual Motherhood, Blessings, God's Will, etc) and I don't want to lead anyone astray, but I think I'm just making excuses now, so I'm hoping to publish at least one each week. I also have a few more posts along the lines of the "Keeping It Real" post, not quite as temper-tantrum-y, but definitely not the pretty side of things either that I'd like to get published. Are there any topics you'd like my rambling thoughts on?

3.01.2014

Surgery #2 - 48 Hours Post-Op

Thank-you all so much for your prayers for me and The Man this week. We are very grateful.

My surgery went well.

The details (from what Dr. D. told The Man, I'm sure we'll get more information at my follow-up, including results of the cultures):
Both tubes were partially blocked.
Endometriosis had returned.
My left ovary was stuck to some tissue behind it.
There were adhesions.

All has been corrected. Again.

I'm feeling pretty well. Just sore and tired, but The Man is doing an excellent job of taking care of me. He gave me foot rubs on Thursday night, helped me get a decent sponge bath on Friday, and surprised me with a Shamrock Shake today. Kind of makes me wonder what is on tomorrow's agenda ;).

I'm relieved the surgery is over and went well. At the same time, I'm overwhelmed at all that was found.

The left ovary being stuck and the adhesions helped to explain some pain I'd been having; as well as the return of the endometriosis gave some answer to a return of back cramping that I'd not had for many cycles. So, it is nice to know that I wasn't imagining things.

For now, I'm trying not to worry about all of the "what comes next" thoughts that are trying to creep into my brain. I'm trying to remind myself I need to focus on my recovery and then see what Dr. D. recommends at my follow-up. I am grateful that all went well on Thursday.

Mary, Undoer of Knots, please continue to pray for us.