Keeping Mum

I was recently talking with another awesome blogger about the process of telling, or not telling, people about various parts of your fertility journey. How do you tell family? Friends? Work colleagues? How do you tell your boss?

To whom do you speak, how often and in what degree of detail? These are the questions we face all the time – as queer people, but also as people going through intense emotional, physical and time-consuming appointments and procedures. There are also the unwanted questions and comments that we all experience – which can be off-putting, infuriating, isolating, or create barriers in our future sharing. That will be for another day.

I think the way I handle fertility is reflective of how I handle my gayness in general. I had a pretty easy coming-out, so I've always felt like part of paying that forward is the responsibility to create space and visibility for others. If I was more precariously employed, or had less support in my life, this would drastically shift my approach – but since I feel empowered I find that this confidence transfers to other areas of my life. People often don't speak about fertility (sometimes with concerns for privacy, shame, pain, distress, awkwardness, and many other very good reasons), but since I can, I sometimes feel I should – to make it easier, more normalized, less like coming out, for people who have not had such positive experiences. Even the hard things, I talk about; because I cannot imagine going through three miscarriages with my wife and having to pretend 1) that I don't have a wife, 2) that I am not extremely impacted by these things, 3) that even if I seem fine right now, I might not be okay in 5 minutes, and there is a very good reason for it, 4) I am a human being who has an iceberg of unseen experiences, so if I share the tip of the iceberg it is just one example of the thousand things we all go through that others may not be aware of. Cut people some slack.

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I'm always out, as a rule. But when it comes to our reproductive health, the fact that it happens below the waist, or that it can be about successes and losses, we aren't always as comfortable. This isn't new. Did you know that female teachers, not so far back in history, had to 'discreetly' disappear from their jobs in front of students once they started showing? As though the mere idea of their visible fertility might make students see them as sexual beings, or worse, make them ask questions about where babies come from. They would know 'something' had happened to them. It's weird that pregnancy is celebrated the world over (for a variety of reasons) but is also (for a variety of reasons) treated like it is somehow obscene.

Now, as queer folks, we have the added pleasure of getting a barrage of questions about HOW we conceived, as queer folk, when I'm sure straight people don't get asked: what position were you in when you got knocked up? Were the lights on or off? How much was the bottle of wine you drank before your 'procedure'? Did you use protection/was this the result of a condom malfunction? Maybe I'm being naive… but the things I get asked are SO much more invasive than the general questions I hear my straight friends being asked. It could simply be that people actually have a pretty good understanding of bodies and know that two vaginas won't magically make a baby appear.

All jokes aside, most people who know me KNOW that I'm almost always game to talk about anything, as long as the intention behind the question is positive. Even the awkward stuff.

So, how do I decide (or you) who to talk to about, in what detail?

My friends knew we wanted kids. We mused together how that might go. I used to think how EASY it would be to find a real live human to benevolently help us out with our 'fertility' problem, which is actually a penis problem. A sperm problem, specifically.

My family knew we wanted kids, and my mom helped me through my coping mechanism of claiming 'maybe I don't want to carry' because for a while it looked like Allia might have donor sperm available (in the way we wanted to pursue our family), but that my options were limited. I convinced myself I'd be okay, maybe didn't even want to carry, since it looked like I might not get to. Better to decide for myself, on my terms, than have the choice taken away.

My family cheered and cried with us through the past three years. Allia even, eventually, told her religious, unsupportive family, back in Jamaica, what she had gone through and and hugely relieved to receive the kind of sadness and recognition of loss that you would expect from your family.  Her sister has always been wonderful, and her mom was really coming around. My family, especially my brother, sister-in-law, and my parents, have been our biggest cheering section.

Since we switched to me as the 'vessel' I have been updating my mom, sometimes daily, about follicles, levels, the crappiness of injection medication, etc. I even took out some of the MANY hormones I was reeling from on her when one of those days my darling Mum forgot to check in with me about our final egg count. I was so steamed at her. Obviously, all I wanted was more of the same amazing support.

I get that same support at work: I talk about our struggles openly all the time at work. Three of my colleagues in a work room of 7 women and one man are also doing fertility treatments and struggling with their own journeys. We touch bases all the time, nod knowingly at the bandaids on inner-arms, and late arrivals. We are sensitive to each other and, for those of you NOT living in the beautiful bubble of big-city Canada-land, every one of my coworkers and 60% of the 2000 students at my school know I'm a lesbian and it is a non-issue (always with staff, and 99.5% of the time with students). Our health coverage extends to my wife, even to past common law girlfriends. But there are added costs that aren't anticipated by traditionally heterosexual medical plans. More on that another day.

The Boss and Higher Ups:  Last year, I told my department head (a man), and asked that he keep my plans in mind as soon as scheduling for this term started; we agreed that a later start this year- with my lunch in period 1 (8 am-9:30am) instead of midday, would let me attend doctor's appointments without impacting my kids and classes. This is more planning and fine-tuning to work out, but when the students suffer by having me absent or late, it is worth their effort to accommodate.

I told our Business Manager (a man in his 40s) as soon as I knew I might start fertility monitoring. Why? Because this is the guy who assigns last minute class coverages and supervision schedules. I wanted him on-side about potential late-starts. This business manager… is usually crusty people about asking for anything, but as soon as he heard it was for fertility he assumed the most helpful tone. With Period 1 off, I often get scheduled to cover unexpected absences or missing supply teachers. Him knowing I wasn't just getting coffee and rolling in late (which would never happen anyway) made him far more understanding. Fertility, he said, is beyond my control, totally legitimate and has full support, whereas someone 'preferring' to be able to come in later and not be assigned coverages if they have period one off is a terrible excuse.

Next, my Vice Principal: she is amazing and completely on board. I told her as soon as we started and she was equal parts thrilled for us and sympathetic to what we had already gone through. Compare this to my past VP who, in an effort to console after miscarriage 2 told me, I know someone who 'had 5 and now she has a beautiful baby,' and then 'you're lucky because if your wife can't give birth, you can always try." You all know what I'm talking about. The new VP stepped in immediately when it looked like my schedule might be shifted to a Period 1 University-bound class, which would create huge stress if I wasn't able to get to them every morning, consistently for our 7:45 school day start. She 'handled it,' no questions and it was the biggest relief. This is why talking about it has mattered. Trying to screen myself might have prevented people from helping me when I needed it most.

Human Resources: as teachers we have a union (yay!) and a certain number (9) of allowable sick days. I used 2 last year. None in my first 4 years. I get that some people scam the system, but we now have an 'Attendance Monitoring Program' where you get flagged for missing a certain number of days (not full days, but 'occurrences'), even if you haven't used up your allotted and allowed sick days. I hit the magic number, even though I was 'booking out' period 1 times, when I had no students to teach, during my own prep time, and arriving to teach period 2, right on time. I still have to sign out so that I'm not assigned a class coverage. Huge stress, time-suck, etc. But, now I get an email from some board office lady, telling me that I need to provide proof of my fertility status and that I'm under the care of a physician (which is handy because my attendance has documented evidence) – what sucks is that people who have had other forms of illness or loss might not. So HR gets to know about the inside of my body so they can 'support me' in not missing more work time, even though none of this has impacted my students – only my own time to prep. Can you tell I find this annoying?

I also tell students when it comes up.

"Do you and your wife want kids?

For sure!

Will you adopt?

Maybe, but for now we are trying to have some on our own."

And I did share news of our first miscarriage with students because they are smart – they can tell when their teacher who is usually beaming and upbeat is 'not okay' and gets called down to the office and disappears for two days. I want them to have knowledge, not to be frightened, to know I'm sad, but I'll be okay. For the same reason that I would tell them my cat died and I'm sad about it, I tell them I've lost something and I might seem sad sometimes. What was important for me to tell them is that my sadness was temporary and that being there, teaching them, made me happy again. They are my recovery and happy place. They rose to the challenge.

For me, it's about authenticity. Honesty. Awareness. I humanize myself and share what real people go through, how people cope and what self-care looks like. It's okay to be sad and sometimes people need support. Honestly, it is remarkable how intuitive and thoughtful and real people can be if you let them have that opportunity. I don't tell people I don't want to tell and I set boundaries about what I'll entertain and won't. I generally welcome whatever questions people ask, because it takes bravery (or sometimes ignorance) to ask and curiosity is better than apathy. 

How do these convos and subsequent ones go? I get tons of personal questions, but I'm pretty open to talking about it because then at least people are talking about queerness and recognizing that this is going on. Like most things I talk about, that others could shy away from (for good reason), I try to walk in like a boss and be open, own it and educate. I know I run the risk of encountering shitty responses, or ignorance, but I don't think women who WANT to be able to talk about it should have to keep this under wraps. It should be something we can explore and set our own boundaries around. I totally understand why people are hesitant to share, it's emotional, vulnerable and nobody's business, but it's also something people make so many generalizations about because so few people feel empowered to talk about it – which leads to some of us suffering in silence and not getting support when we need it 🙂

This is just where I'm at, personally, right now. Thanks to the community of bloggers who make these conversations possible and who honour their own journey. I heart you all.

What questions, conversations, struggles do you have, hear about, want to talk about?

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Day 4 and 6: Meet the A Team

I've always held our cat like a babe-in-arms, which she loves – don't let her face fool you. Good thing, too, because we are en route to our baby destination.

We got the calls from the clinic later on the weekends than on weekdays, which is no fun – because so much hinges on those calls.

I was super relieved for the Day 5 report: Mixed but still positive. We had 9, but 2 stopped growing. We are left with 7 viable embryos. From that 4 reached the Blast stage and are now safe and sound in the freezer.

That means we have at least 4 tries, 4 potential babes in the bank.

They are waiting for the remaining 3, of 7, for one more day.

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Day 6: turns out the wait was worth it. Yesterday's 4 blasts are a done deal, and we hae 2 more to add to the freezer today. 1 arrested, but that is still 'fantastic,' as the nurse put it.

We have 6 blasts and that sets us up for a really good round of implantation tries.

Now I can take a deep breath, and do fun, relaxing things, like mark 30 annotated bibliographies for 12U English. No, really – we are focused on joy: like seeing Thor Ragnarok last night, and heading to Toronto tonight to see some experimental theatre and have dinner with my parents, brother and sister-in-law.

What did you do this weekend? What are you doing to keep your spirits up?

Day 3 and 4 update.

The morning phone call could go either way. So far we have been so fortunate.

Yesterday we heard that Day 3 embryo count is still at 9.

Still 9 embryos! They will wait until Day 5 to freeze and some may take longer, so they will wait until Day 6 for them to catch up.

Today is Day 4 and the news was awesome. All 9 are still going strong. I was anticipating a potential 50% loss, which could still happen, but this is an unexpectedly bright outcome.

The nurse said tomorrow is when they really declare themselves and we will eventually get a letter grade, too.

We only have a few days left to find out who will be our A Team!

Oct 30 – 21 Eggs and Counting (easy as 1, 2, 3 days of updates)

IVF retrieval. Done! I'm on the other side of it and very glad that I listened to both the gruesome stories from people who had bad experiences and the 'it's not as bad as you think' stories. I was somewhere midway between.

I was up at 5:15. At the clinic by 6:30am. Took my Ativan in the morning, and then did my intake. Got a bracelet with my name on it, changed into the double hospital gown. Socks on.

I sat in a big recliner as the nurse looked for a good vein for the IV. First the hand, then settling on my inner arm. The drip gave me a nice drug cocktail.

I wrote the next part after the surgery in the car, directly following:

Allia is laughing at me. I have the hiccups. Got 21 eggs retrieved, don’t know if that was one from every follicle but that’s the number they told us. I want a cinnamon bun. Need to call the Mississauga clinic and they will set up an ultrasound check up to follow up and sign consents for the frozen embryo transfers. Allia was my rock. She was my everything. And she’s going to get me a cinnamon bun. And she made me a playlist with Fleetwood Mac and the Pretenders.

Here is what I remember. I started to feel really relaxed. As that happened, they continuously checked my heart rate/blood pressure with an arm band and finger monitor. Then, once I was nice and woozy, they got me up with my IV and told me to empty my bladder. Super fun walking all-drunk-feeling with a needle in your arm. I felt like the slowest, most careful person in the world.

They took me into the room (I don't know what to call it; not a lab, not an 'OR') and got me onto the table, IV beside me, Allia sitting by my head, stroking my hair and talking to me. Calves up in stirrups so your knees are at 90 degrees and the doctor sits between your legs. Then… they open the saloon-style half-door/window into the lab where a team of people can see into the room (and by room I mean 'my vagina'), but they are important; they count the eggs that are retrieved by the doctor. They can stay.

The meds to were put into the IV, cold-feeling. Apparently this takes some of the pain away. I felt pretty calm and breathed my way through the most uncomfortable parts. Because I had so many follicles, they spent a lot of time in there. The speculum is inserted, then a needle that goes through the vaginal wall into the ovary. Then, one by one, they drain the follicles. This was sometimes just 'pressure and mild discomfort'. Sometimes though it was a LOT of pressure, very deep breaths and lots of 'you're doing great. We're almost done.' I have a very high pain threshold. So, I imagine for me the reality was somewhere in the middle of terrible and okay, but mostly because I was ready for it to be brutal (just in case). It took a really long time to get everything, but you sort of just keep in mind that the longer it takes, the more eggs they are potentially collecting. And that's what all of this has been for – all the meds, the driving, the discomfort, the money.

In the end, they got 21 eggs.

I'm not going to go torturing myself with looking up how many is 'normal' or 'average.' I feel really happy with that number, not really knowing comparatively what should be 'a good number.' It feels good to me because that's what we've got to work with.

I spent the rest of the day, as promised by Allia, helping her carve a pumpkin, while doing as little bending and/or lifting as possible. And eating the banana muffins I asked her to bake, and the scones/chelsea buns I made her get us (which was the next best thing to cinnamon buns).

I was sleepy by 2 pm and fell asleep for a few hours, then went back to bed at 8 pm, deciding that I'd see how I felt about going to work at 6am the next morning when I woke up.

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Oct. 31 – I felt so much better than I anticipated, so I rallied, determined not to miss out on my kickass Hallowe'en costume. I had a day of trivia, anti-oppression lessons and candy for my students, plus a really good wig. I could definitely have stayed home, because I was certainly uncomfortable. But being distracted really worked for me. And the kiddos are really lovely and kind, and funny!, so it was nice to be there with them.

I almost forgot that you get a daily update. Until the phone rang.

Update 1: 21 eggs harvested. Of the total number collected, 17 were mature. 11 fertilized. This sounds good!! They are doing a freeze all, so my body can calm down (to avoid the OHSS). So, after a nice day of sugar and hormones, I got into a onesie with cat ears as soon I got home from work and we handed out candy on the porch.

So how bad was it, all in all? I’m a trooper/pride myself on being tough physically, and this much can be said: my procedure was uncomplicated enough that I was able to rally and put on an awesome costume the very next day. Could I have stayed home? For sure. But… I’m used to being uncomfortable. I’ve been a dancer my whole life and prone to injury, sprains and two decades of brutal period cramps. I think my day went much more smoothly than some people’s, but I also had no adverse reactions to the medications.

I am used to dealing with the regular discomfort that comes from dancing six hours a week and working on my feet full time. I definitely think this made it easier for me. Plus I slept lots before and after, and hydrated. The worst part was just before the procedure (both physically and mentally, dealing with the anxiety around how it would go) and then the actual extraction. I was supremely relieved afterward and was really only as uncomfortable the day after retrieval as I was before the procedure.

-———— By night time I was feeling even better than yesterday, but at the end of the evening I was sore and puffy-bellied.

Nov. 1 – feeling lots better today. Almost normal.

Update 2: Down to 9 embryos from 11. The nurse actually provided a reason: the other two didn’t divide evenly. The genetic material didn’t split as they would want (I didn't expect to get details, so that was nice). Even though I'm framing this in the language of loss (down to 9), there is some really positive news: they grade the eggs on a scale from 1-4 (One is lowest, four is highest). All the other 9 embryos received a level 4 on the scale. Day three (tomorrow) will be the critical day to see how we are doing with survival rates.

My colleague,  who has gone through 5 years of fertility and is now expecting, asked me:

Isn't it weird to think that your future baby is growing in a dish RIGHT NOW?

Ps. I'm glad we still celebrated Halloween. And I channeled badass Charlize in Atomic Blonde. If you are queer and haven't seen this movie yet, what the hell are you waiting for?!


Biding time

I’m getting so nervous. And I feel so uncomfortable. I’ve been waking up at 5 AM for the past few days, because every position that I lie in just feels twisted, like my stomach is a balloon being warped by some children’s party clown. Usually animals make me happy, but not at 5 am. Not today.

I am watching Grey’s Anatomy, which is probably a bad idea. But I keep reading over my notes about what I’m supposed to do, and not do.

I went in to the clinic for my 9:45 blood test. They should know by noon (by now anyways) if all is well. I was told not to do anything to disrupt my pelvis; no lifting, no running, no sex, no Zumba. How specific. Let it rest.

I took my two shots of Decapeptyl last night. The amount (volume) in the shots felt like a lot. It was pretty smooth sailing, now that I’m an expert self-injector.

Started reading all the ‘what to expect during your procedure’ stuff. I’m glad I have it. I worry and have mild but real anxiety. The Ativan should help with that, they said. Not going to lie though, I’m antsy about having them administer Fentanyl during my procedure tomorrow. People are literally dying from it. I had an actual conversation with Allia that if I start ‘crashing,’ don’t wait for the lab techs to call  911, do it. Look like a fool. Don’t let me die. I was half serious. Thanks, Grey’s Anatomy.

Talked to my bestie who has been through all this before. She is due in two weeks and had a terrible, 7 year slog towards FINALLY keeping a pregnancy. She had lots of calming, soothing words and tidbits of advice. Namely, she said she did everything ‘right’ and had terrible results, but now with her little one on the way, she thinks the best thing she did was realize there isn’t one right way; whatever gets you through the stress of it. She went out for lunch and laughed all through the meal with a friend right after her implantation procedure. So, when I asked her if I should try to stay home Tuesday, following Monday’s visit she said:

‘But you LOVE Hallowe’en! Won’t you be sad to be at home thinking about your uterus and ovaries, when you could be with your students, talking about cultural appropriation, wearing a costume, learning Thriller (*don’t worry, I have two students teaching it, since I’m on ‘no Zumba’ doctor’s orders) and spending time doing something you like?’

So, I’m keeping it low-key today. Marking away. 18 of 31 essays done. 12 of 23 dance tests done. And Allia is doing all kinds of stuff around the house, including baking me buckwheat banana muffins. She turned to me and said:

Think about this; how many more days like this will there be? Me baking quietly in the kitchen, you on the couch with the marking, the cat asleep on the chair? Soon, hopefully, this kind of tranquil Sunday will be a distant memory.

Here is what they tell you before the IVF Egg Retrieval. I will update this blog as soon as I’m not woozy and can make sense again. Wish us luck!

Saturday: Game On!

I woke up this morning after a night of sex dreams. My body, even subconsciously, is trying to get these eggs outta here. My ovaries are yelling, “get somebody in here to make a baby! Things are getting really out of control and very crowded.”  (I said something way more vulgar, but it doesn’t bear repeating)
Weird. Now I’m sitting on the on the couch with ovaries that, according to the very nice nurse in Burlington, are usually walnut sized but are currently comparable to oranges. Fruit metaphors. How queer. My co-worker said stimulated follicles are the size of grapes.

But, good news, they are ready to be juiced. Picked? whatever the metaphor. Also, the nurse said my ovaries are nice and accessible, which should make retrieval pretty easy and expedient.

We did the ultrasound and it’s even better than yesterday, but they want to get bloodwork back to decide if I’ll take the Decapeptyl double shot tonight to trigger me, or tomorrow. If I take D it will have to be a frozen cycle, as there is a medication (Ovidrel) that is different if they are going to do a fresh transfer. So much I didn’t know before.

I got the call two hours later. Game time!

TO DO:

  1. Take the Gonal F (150) now. No Luveris. Tonight at 9 pm precisely, take two of the Decapeptyl shots.
  2. Go to the grocery store/pharmacy: get an enormous pizza with prosciutto, brie, arugula and figs. Pick up my presciption for Atavan (one for Sunday night, one for the morning of the procedure to help with anxiety). I am so relieved. Allia will be with me because I won’t be able to drive. And we were advised to bring an Ipod with nice music for us to listen to.
  3. Call in to book off work and make lesson plans for Monday, probably Tuesday, too.
  4. Go to the clinic Sunday morning for bloodwork only (make sure the trigger worked)
  5. Don’t eat anything Sunday night. Take an Atavan.
  6. Go in at 6:45 am for my appointment on Monday. At 6:30, take the other Atavan. 
  7. Wear socks. lol. 
  8. Win that game and get as many of my team off the bench and onto the court as I can. No benchwarmers needed. 

 

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Go Team!

 

Weekend Update

I’ve been playing phone tag with the Clinic. Come in today, come in tomorrow, no come in Sunday, OK come in both.

Here is a recap of the past few days.

Thursday: Went into the clinic today. The follicles are developing really wonderfully; I have 10 that look really good. Nurse called and said that I need to go into the Burlington clinic on Saturday, and Dr. C looked at my chart and wants me to drop the Gonal F to 100. She is predicting it’s going to be a freeze-all cycle, because they’re worried about hyperstimulation. So, I might have to do a natural cycle after this one, so wait out November and try for December. Either way, I will come back in and sign consents for frozen transfers. They are going to drop the dose of Gonal, then I’ll go in on Saturday to keep monitoring. (So, started Gonal at 200, dropped to 150, then to 100 last minute on Friday).

Because with a freeze all we will have to skip November, we run into potential scheduling problems. They are closed Dec. 22 to Jan. 5 in Mississauga, while Burlington will be closed Dec. 25 and 26. A natural cycle is unpredictable, so we might miss December altogether.

Transfer Options – Natural or On Medication: If I do end up doing a natural cycle there will be an option to come into the clinic a few times for monitoring, but then we wait for me to ovulate. The risk is that the meds this month might make my cycle unpredictable and it will be hit or miss with the timing of my ovulation (harder to plan and harder to catch). However, if I do a medicated cycle I will have to keep taking the medication for 13 weeks, if I use it during the pregnancy. And bonus deet: the meds make your vagina bright blue. Smurf style.

Friday: In to the clinic again. Last night the dose of Gonal F dropped to 100. Luveris still at 75. Took Cetrotide this morning. Three needles a day makes Alison a dull girl. Good thing it’s just me and not the needles. I need to remember to get a needle disposal unit!! We returned a full one and forgot to get another. We have an ever-growing brown paper bag of medical biohazard waste on the table.

Meds: We have 150 left of Gonal F and 1 Luveris at home. The tally for meds costs is on the agenda for this weekend. It’s in the thousands of $$$.

It was a Long appointment today, because there is a lot to look at.

Lots of follicles!

26 follicles, 16 over 14 mm. My lining is 18.2. They are almost sure that we will do a freeze-all. This makes me nervous, but I keep telling myself it’s for my own good.

I need to come back Sunday to give my body a chance to let the smaller ones catch up. I’m booked at Burlington on Saturday,  but need to change it to Sunday.

What happens next? The trigger shot will happen, then we skip one day. What are we looking forward to? Right now: best results would be 18 (at most) frozen eggs, but often after losses in the post-fertilization stage, it drops off – so maybe 3-7.

Either way, more meds!!!

My running tally is going to be more than I spent on a semester at University. 

Then I got the update: called during Period 5 class, to reschedule. I have to come in Saturday and Sunday. Take Cetrotide, but stop everything else after Friday night.

The doctor looked at my chart and wants to bring me in sooner. My estrogen is at 10,500 and it’s pushing the safe zone if all these follicles keep growing.

Cross your fingers for a weekend of good news!