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Tuesday, November 21

In Search of Life (Part III)

Anyone who has been through IVF knows the unique, and at times unnerving, circumstances it brings. For a planner like myself, the fact that literally each day in the process could totally change your next step was at times emotionally unwieldy. The toughest was probably waiting to find out if transfer could be a go or not. For it to be a go, specific hormone levels had to be achieved and the uterine lining had to measure within a specific range. Once again, I was pleading with my body to cooperate. And it did. It seemed only appropriate that my transfer day would be on the day of the 2016 presidential election. High stakes. November 8, 2016, would be my chance to sustain the life I had produced (with help). My embryo was considered a blastocyst at the time of transfer since it had been given 6 days of growth prior to the freeze. If you ever want some interesting reading, take some time to learn what an embryo is doing in its first five days of existence. It is utterly fascinating and humbling.

The night before my transfer, I wrote a letter to the embryo. I explained what a miracle it already was. I promised happiness and love galore should it be meant to be my child. I loved this embryo as terrified as I was to do so. I knew too well the heart pain of failed attempts. The emotional isolation and biological drive to continue despite it all.

So, transfer day came, and it was a truly magical morning. Despite the sterile atmosphere of the center's operating room area, the warmth and joy in the air could not be denied. There was laughter, kind eyes and kind acts, and there was love. The doctors rotate OR duties, so I ended up having a doctor I had not met, but he was both hilarious and competent. So, I was wheeled back to the procedure area where the team worked like a well oiled machine--for me, it was so interesting to watch all of the roles happening simultaneously, I forgot that I should be nervous or worried, etc. The room was freezing cold, but my partner was able to sit at my head, they had soft music playing, and the team placed the embryo. 

I had acupuncture sessions both before and after the transfer procedure that day. Francie, the acupuncturist at the center, was yet another amazing member of the care team. She sent me off with some sound advice to help encourage implantation, and the morning ended with another drive home. It would be another thirteen days of waiting and wondering about an outcome. But, wait I did, binge watching election results coverage, working, and rubbing my tummy just in case life was brewing in there and needed a little encouragement.

Monday, November 20

In Search of Life (Part II)

At the end of the summer of 2016, I decided I'd at least explore the option of IVF. It meant another round of testing--to determine whether I could even be a candidate for it. Through this process, I discovered I actually had premature diminished ovarian reserve--in layman's terms, I didn't have many eggs or much time to make use of them. Based on other test results, we proceeded with entering the IVF cycle later in September. Another surprise surgery had to be done in October of 2016--between egg retrieval and the frozen embryo transfer. Despite the logistical challenges of being cared for out of Pittsburgh, I cleared my mind of all other things and proceeded to get the daily shots (thanks to my gracious aunt) necessary--often leaving my home in the morning before the sun came up--driving to Pittsburgh every couple of days for very early morning blood draws, adjusting medicines based on results. Rinse, repeat. Rinse, repeat. After a few weeks, it was finally time for egg retrieval.

But, after egg retrieval, things looked really grim to me. While I had 11 eggs extracted, only half fertilized and given the number of days we needed for embryos to mature, the expectation was that we would only have one viable embryo in the end--my doctor called to report this to me a day after my retrieval. The sudden drop in enthusiasm after a solid 11 egg turnout was tough. Part of this issue came from the need to have 6 days of growth prior to freezing so I could have the surgery. Needless to say, after getting this news on a Sunday, the wait to hear the final outcome on Friday of that week was so long and difficult. Would there be any embryos in the end? Would I have more than one so that I could have multiple chances at conception? Could I take the pressure of only having one? Even more intense, I had my egg retrieval on that Saturday and then had to have surgery the following Thursday.  Only now, as I recall the timeline, do I fully appreciate all my body had to endure for me.

So, that Friday rolled around, and I was at Trax Farms, buying mums and pumpkins, when the embryologist from Magees called me. I was so nervous when I answered, I was physically shaking--not something I do often. With one of the most reassuring voices I've heard, she happily let me know we had a very strong little embryo that had survived the week and was ready to be frozen. I burst into tears when I got to the car and shared the news. I wasn't sure at the time whether the tears were the result of joy or sorrow. The prospect of a single shot at success terrified me, but there was this tiny spark inside of me that said it would be okay. We were still okay.

At this point, I resumed all I'd been doing to increase my chances of success for months. Eating extremely healthy, skipping any alcohol, exercising moderately, meditating, doing yoga, having acupuncture, praying my heart out and so on. I would have to return to Magees to get cleared from my surgery to be able to proceed with transfer. If something happened and I couldn't proceed in November, I would have had to wait until at least January because the lab closes for annual cleaning and inventory for the month of December. This doesn't seem like a big deal, but after two years of waiting away weeks of time, it seemed like I would crumble if I had to wait for the transfer. Thankfully, all went well with my recovery, and we were on track for a November transfer. 

Sunday, November 19

In Search of Life (Part I)

Tomorrow is a very special day for me. Last year, the Monday before Thanksgiving is when I received the amazing news that I was pregnant. I've thought a lot about what parts of this journey I want to share. In sharing, I hope that another woman who may be struggling to conceive may come across my story and find hope. Because what I know best from my experience is that hope can be impossible to find and sometimes tales from the Internet are the only salve for an aching and isolated soul. I spent countless nights reading and re-reading message boards and blogs focused on infertility, to the point that I had memorized many women's stories even though I had no idea who these women were. During this week of Thanksgiving, I'll tell my story because I cannot think of another thing I am more thankful to have taken the chance on and more thankful to have found the doctors, faith and support people I needed to come out the other side.

In December of 2014, I decided that I was going to begin my journey to motherhood. I was 32 years old and confident my biggest obstacle would be sorting out how to choose a male donor. I did that over the next several months and commenced artificial insemination attempts in May of 2015. I went through three of those unsuccessfully then was told I would need surgery before proceeding with another attempt. In the midst of these attempts, I scoured the cryobank for different donors. Surely the issue was with the donor and not me. I was healthy, in shape and still young. After surgery, we waited another couple of months and attempted artificial insemination for a fourth time. Again unsuccessful. A fifth time. Again unsuccessful. At this point, I decided to move my medical care to Pittsburgh and see what could be discovered there.

I cannot say enough for the care that I received at Magee-Women's Hospital at the Center for Fertility and Reproductive Endocrinology--particularly from Dr. Marie Menke and her team. I had to basically start from scratch and go through some testing, then we attempted my sixth artificial insemination in May of 2016. When this attempt failed, I decided to take a break and re-evaluate. To this point, I did not want to try IVF. I didn't want to feed my body the hormones, and I didn't want to chance it with the price tag. (To this point, I'd already spent thousands of dollars.) If I were to remain with Dr. Menke, that would have to be the next step.

I decided adoption would be a better route for me. After all, I didn't have to rely on my unreliable body that way. However, I soon discovered the many obstacles and challenges of trying to adopt as an untraditional parent (untraditional being defined here as not married to a man). I recall a conversation I had with a lady at the recommended adoption agency in the state of WV. She basically listened to my story and let me know that they had a waiting list of (traditional) couples and that they likely would not be the best fit for me because of my "situation"--funny because I thought my only situation to this point was that I could not conceive. Needless to say, I felt transported back to the Stone Age. This meant moving out of state, and I started down the path with a national agency only to find that their $13K price tag would only cover the very beginning of their search for me and each year that passed would carry more cost for the search to continue. I researched the foster care system but knew, living alone, I was not well equipped to handle any special needs situations. Unfortunately, many many of the foster to adopt opportunities include those due to skyrocketing drug and alcohol use. This suddenly seemed like the worse of the two options and my unreliable body started to seem more promising.

Thursday, November 16

A Dime A Dozen

Until I was expecting a baby, I never paid too much attention to customer reviews online. I also never put too much thought into why I would or would not.

Having very little experience with real baby gear, I started reading these reviews, taking them very seriously. Problems cropped up.

The first problem I encountered was the sheer volume of reviews and their free text format. A paragraph or two from a satisfied or dissatisfied customer, focusing on their particular likes and dislikes. Reading through even a few of these would leave my mind spinning a bit. By the time I got to the last, I couldn't remember what had been said in the first. So, inevitably, I'd only recall the very highest praise or very worst of complaints. After scanning through comparable products, I'd just land on the one that had seemed to have the best feedback.

A second problem as I sorted through reviews--I'd lose sight of what was important to me at the outset. Lots of product reviews seem to carry similar themes. Perhaps it's true that everyone cares about that same stuff about the product, but what do you do if your concerns don't fall within that limited pool of concerns? Lots of people are motivated by lots of different things.

Lastly, the stars! The quality that a number of stars holds for one person surely doesn't match for the next person. There were those who gave five stars but had some complaints and those who gave fewer stars but had no complaints. The stars phenomenon leads a shopper to believe you can scroll down the page and simply seek out the brand and version of the desired item that has the strongest star showing. Not so, my friends, not so.

This is not a huge deal if you are familiar with what you are purchasing. But, if you are in the dark and in need of some guidance? I did not find it particularly helpful. I found it to be confusing and misleading. Not to mention time consuming. And I also still ended up with some major flops despite lots of research and reading of reviews. The Internet. Super progressive and awesome until it floods your brain and is not. 

Tuesday, November 14

The Internet, Facebook and Bears...Oh My!

I'm a sucker for most all animals. I've been known to shed tears over roadkill. A couple of years ago, I was running and came upon a fawn that had been hit by a car and killed. I finished my run and returned to the spot to move the baby from the road (after a quick stop at home to grab some gloves!).  When a young deer ran into the side of my car as I was driving, my immediate reaction was to look in the rearview mirror to try and discern whether the poor guy had survived (he did) or needed help (he did not...thank goodness). My heart was made to beat for most creatures great and small (minus the creepy crawly ones).

Although I'm strangely on alert for black bears when hiking in their homelands (read: fearful), I somehow came across the Facebook page for the Appalachian Bear Rescue several months ago and have fallen completely in love with following the rescued cubs' stories. Every day, the curators at the facility provide an update on how the cubs are and usually include some interesting tidbits about black bear habits. Each cubby is named, so you're sure to keep their story straight from start to finish--I was particularly fond of Summit Bear, the cub named for the late great Pat Summit.

Located in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, the facility works in conjunction with other organizations in the region--the national park, University of Tennessee vet center and local and state authorities--to help rescue abandoned or injured cubs. Whether a mama bear has been killed or has abandoned a cub or a cub has been hit or otherwise injured, these teams work together to capture the cub and get it to the vet center and evaluated. Once given the green light, ABR whisks the cubby off to their facility and begins their road to recovery and release back in the wild. (I have shed tears at this news--a bittersweet ending after watching the little babies grow and then thrive again.) We are currently waiting for Otto, Rollo and Apollo to make their returns to the wild. They will be released just in time for hibernation. (And I will cry.) It's been super interesting to be able to witness the cubs entering hyperphagia, which is when they eat and drink a bunch more before hibernating, and super cute to see their little bear bodies plumping up. (Bear cub bums are some of the cutest around.)

I think more and more charitable and rescue organizations are sharing their works via the web. It expands the role you can play with those you're interested in supporting, and builds a relationship that was much harder and less dynamic before. Win/win for the organizations and donors. I look forward to discovering a couple of other organizations to support and follow this holiday season. It's always fun to find that crossover between personal passions and pitching in a little help in the world!

Monday, November 13

Beloved Baked Good

Buttery deliciousness. That's my definition for croissants. It doesn't get better than pairing the melt in your mouth paper-thin layers with your favorite coffee (or tea). Done just right, they have a perfectly delicate crunch to them and just the slightest hint of sweet. According to Wikipedia (because where else would you go to research croissants?), they are in a class of baked goods called viennoiserie, which use yeast-levened dough and the technique of laminating--basically what makes for those delicious buttery layers of these pastry-like treats. While most identifiable as a French treat, the beloved croissant seems to have baked good roots in Austria. 

My love for--borderline infatuation with--croissants began a decade ago. I left Wheeling to pursue a new role in Marketing with the law firm I work for. This move left me living in New Jersey and working in New York City. Once settled, every day's morning commute began early and ended up being about a two hour extension of overnight sleep--just with a shower in between. After boarding my Academy bus, I'd be whisked into the City and dropped off at the Port Authority bus terminal where I caught the E train. Making my way up from the subway station, I most often went to the food truck outside of my office building on W. 53rd Street. Out of my two years of this routine, I didn't miss many mornings at the food truck. And every morning, I got the same thing--a croissant and coffee with cream and sugar served in the infamous Greek-themed coffee cup. The very nice Middle Eastern men who ran the truck nicknamed me "petite croissant." After I left New York to return to Wheeling, they asked my commuting partner where the petite croissant had gone. I've been called many things, but this was not one I was expecting. 

While I have moved on to much more nutritional breakfast fare, I rediscovered my love of this baked good this year right in Wheeling. Good Mansion Wines, a fantastic wine shop and eatery in town, makes a mean croissant; so, if you're ever looking for a delicious way to start your weekend morning, are a sucker for a delightful baked good, and happen to be nearby, make sure to grab one. Yum!   

Sunday, November 12

Splish Splash

I've lived in my home for four years. This past Spring, as I left the neighborhood for work or came home at the end of the days, I started noticing something I had not before. Birds in puddles.

The alley that I use is just the right type of alley to hold lots of puddles here and there when the rain falls. When I started to notice the birds in the puddles, it was more to avoid hitting them--wondering why their little bird brains didn't make them flee sooner. But, after a few times of this, I found myself almost breaking out in laughter because their enthusiasm was contagious. Reckless abandon is the best description. No longer was I frustrated by their delay. I wanted them to stay put.

As I repeatedly saw these little birds enjoying themselves, it made me think about how glad I was to be witness to their puddle parties. Rainy days are not popular with many. There's usually a gloom that hangs with the day and moods are a bit more sagging than usual. So, it's a real gift to watch something revel in the day despite its lack of sunshine and blue skies. And boy are they cute as they do so--tossing the water all around with their heads and wings. It's truly a rainy day party--and to boot, a party of one.

I've been reading a book--Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard--and it reminded me of this experience. The entire book is this fabulous meditation on nature along a creek in Virginia. It's a great demonstration of how you can take these seemingly small observations and tease them out to extract more meaning in your own life or simply acknowledge the complexities and beauties that surround us (not just those inherent to us).

So, next time there is a rainy day, keep your eyes peeled for some birdie puddle parties. It will make your gloomy day a little better and cause a little visceral joy to bubble up deep inside.