Spork Inspired Rituals

Yesterday I wrote about the good times at my house over the weekend and breaking the many rules of IVF. In that post I told how I threw the rulebook out the window in the cycle that gave us Spork. I have been thinking maybe its a good idea for this cycle to follow the same approach I did with her in the hopes that somewhere along the way I may stumble upon the secret sauce for making this business in March pay off.

Spork was one of eight embryos from our first cycle of IVF.  We transferred two embryos after the retrieval and had a chemical pregnancy. The next time we transferred three and it was negative. So we decided to keep Spork and her two friends on ice for awhile and do another fresh cycle.  We did this because we knew then what we clearly still know now, we want two children. We decided we should preserve the younger embryos for later and keep working on baby number one with my rapidly aging old eggs. I was turning 35 and everyone who has ever looked at the data published by fertility clinics knows that really bad things happen after 35. We needed to bank those 34 year old snow babies.

So we did another fresh cycle and it was a bust. I was heartbroken. We decided to go back to the original embryos and deal with the possibility of a second baby later. (Hello later!)

With that final cycle before Spork I followed all the rules like a Tibetan Monk. I didn’t drink a single drop of alcohol for over three months. I went to acupuncture twice a week. I meditated. I ate organic. I took herbs that were supposed to help. I gained 6 pounds in an effort to get my weight in the fertility “sweet spot.” (I ran a marathon a few months before and was a wee bit on the skinny side). All that work and deprivation and I had the least productive cycle ever.  I was giving up. We started talking to adoption agencies and building a book for a birth mother. I was so worn out that I didn’t even want to do the transfer, but they were our embryos. We were paying $400 a year to keep them frozen and we had to see it through. What else were we going to do with our frosty friends?

I was sure it wasn’t going to work and I was so angry about trying so hard and having nothing to show for it that I just let it all hang out and had a super chill cycle. No rules. I drank like a fish the weekend before the cycle started. For my bed rest after the transfer, I laid out in the sun and got a sunburn while watching stand-up comedy on my iPad. This was a no-no because laughing makes your belly move and sunburn raises your body temp, both frowned upon after transfer. I took a few baths. I flew to South Carolina for a 10 day work trip alone carrying 70 pounds of bags.

And I got pregnant.

I am well on my way back to repeating that successful cycle. I have already doused myself in alcohol this past weekend.  I also did the two day juice blitz Monday and Tuesday to cleanse just like I did with Spork. I haven’t figured out yet how I am going to lay out in the sun and watch comedy in March in Northern Michigan. I don’t need to go to South Carolina for work but perhaps I will go anyway. I might be able to get burned there. We will see.

Probably not though…

But I am super stoked that just like last time in the middle of this cycle I will go into a new age bracket for fertility reporting purposes.  I will be moving into the over 38 year old bracket where really, really, bad things happen to your fertility. And of course the embryo I will be transferring will be just a youngster, a healthy 37 year old.

The doctor gives this genetically tested, chromosomaly normal embryo a 35% chance.

We are getting ready to defy the odds together again.

Rebel in a Bathtub

When you first start IVF and begin to prepare your body the list of things to avoid is relatively short, but as you get into the retrieval and transfer process it grows exponentially. Here is the list.

The first items listed are doctor’s orders. The last three are items I have added because somebody somewhere swears it will work and dammit, I am desperate.

When Actively Cycling or After Transfer DO NOT:

  • Smoke
  • Take illegal drugs (Darn!)
  • Gain too much weight
  • Lose too much weight
  • Drink alcohol
  • Intake caffeine (this one is hotly debated so its good to just generally avoid it)
  • Swim, take baths, use saunas, steam rooms, or hot tubs
  • Exercise (walking is fine, keep pulse below 140)
  • Have sex (after beginning progesterone supplements or after transfer…10 weeks of “pelvic rest”!)
  • Lift more than 10 pounds (after transfer)
  • Eat gluten
  • Eat foods that contain hormones
  • Eat anything that is not organic

When you look at this list it is mind boggling that anyone ever gets pregnant anywhere at any time. In fact when I learn that someone is pregnant I am often tempted to ask them how it happened. Pregnancy and birth are miracles, but for those of us who are eluded so expertly by them it is hard to understand that it usually does happen naturally. I am constantly amazed and surprised when this is the case.

Many, many women going through IVF follow the above instructions to the letter, some of them even between cycles. They are devout followers of the code. Practically nuns.

I am decidedly NOT one of those women.

With Spork I broke a number of those rules. In fact I broke more of these rules in her cycle than in any other (Hmmmmm…..).

But for the most part I try to follow the rules and be a good girl. UNTIL…

The cycle is over and I am not pregnant. When that happens like it did last week there is a level of debauchery that occurs at my house that is truly a sight to behold. This past weekend it involved four bottles of red wine, hot tubbing, and a new favorite liqueur “Rum Chata” (Thanks devil girlfriend who introduced me to it, you know who you are). There was dancing in the kitchen at 3 AM. Early morning dancing is typically a sign we have gone off the rails. It was a crazy fun and ultimately painful weekend. I needed it.

But the weekend is long past now and I have it out of my system. Back on the wagon. Following the list to a “T”.  Except for the sex, baths and exercise. I still get to do those for awhile which is important because running is how I stay sane and bathing is my preferred method for getting clean after doing all the running someone like me needs to do to stay sane. I don’t need to mention why the other one is important, do I?

Does the debauchery keep me from getting pregnant? Maybe. But probably not at this point. Better behavior earlier in life would probably have been a good thing. My old eggs have been with me since birth and we have had some damn good times together. But one weekend of silliness probably doesn’t make much of a difference. Heck, maybe my old eggs need to have a little fun now and then too. Who knows.

Hopefully  it will be about 10 months before we have another “Weekend of Wickedness at the Winslow’s”. Probably many more since I intend to nurse again (and make it longer this time!). For now I will have to enjoy my detox tea with rice and vegetables.

But at least I can still take a hot bath and go for a long run, among other things.

Addicted to IVF

Tonight I unexpectedly spent the evening with my mother at the hospital. She is O-K-A-Y. Mom had a scare with high blood pressure and is being well cared for by a very young and handsome nurse. She will be spending her night trying to hook him up with my single sister. My sister, while are on the topic, is adorable, smart, employed, hard working, and  super funny.

You know, in case any of you single men out there reading about infertility are interested. Now back to the hospital…

I had a special moment with Mom tonight after the lights were out and the rest of the family left. We talked in a way that a working-mother-going-through-IVF (WMGTIVF?) rarely has time to these days. But the whole time we were talking I was distracted by the drip, drip, drip of her IV, the pills she was prescribed to take, the monitoring, and the blood work that was drawn.  I have been in a lot of hospital gowns lately, popped a number of meds, and have been poked like a pin cushion. But right now I am between treatments ever so briefly AND I AM JONESIN’.

When you have done a number of treatments your brain becomes trained to think about taking medications and scheduling procedures constantly. In one of my recent protocols there was a point where I was taking 4 injections a day in addition to two pills. Each had to be taken at a specific time of day every day. It becomes a routine, a way of life. You set alarms. You obsess over the list and make sure its all done. You do all this while trying to make sure you have all the blood work, ultrasound, and consultation appointments that you need set at the right time. When you travel for treatment like we are you also plan accommodations and flights while rescheduling work and other events. It should consume your life but somehow you weave it in.

Then it just ends. You either get that call to go off your meds because your cycle didn’t work or you graduate to your OB when you are 10 to 12 weeks along in your pregnancy because by then the placenta has taken control. You abruptly stop everything. Cold turkey. Done.

When you have been through a number of cycles, especially consecutive cycles, it can feel really strange to not have to do anything. It should be a relief, but its not. Even when you are pregnant it feels odd, like its unatural not to proactively supplement your hormones for pregnancy.

Tonight in that hospital room I had a strong desire to roll up my sleeve and make a fist every time the nurse came into the room. I longed to have my own gown. I craved an IV giving me meds like the anesthesia given at egg retrieval. I love the anesthesia by the way and am not ashamed to admit it, at least something in this process makes you feel groovy. Some clinics even prescribe valium at transfer… yum, yum give me some!

The good news is I get started again tomorrow. At least in a small way. Tomorrow morning I will take a birth control pill to help shut my ovaries down so the doctor can be in the driver’s seat with my hormones to prepare for transfer. Unfortunately, I don’t get to start shooting up again for nearly two weeks.  The heavy stuff, the intramuscular injections, are three whole weeks away! Three weeks! Ugh.

But tomorrow I start something. So yes, while it is indeed laughable that it is birth control pills of all things I am still down right excited.

My name is Alisa Winslow and I am addicted to IVF.

Anyone with me?

A Deeply Disturbing Fascination with Toilet Paper

Women who go through IVF fall into at least three of four categories during the process (and hopefully all four by the time infertility is in the past):

1) Waiting to Start- going absolutely insane while anticipating a visit from her monthly friend so she can start shooting up and put that big box of ridiculously expensive drugs to good use.

2) Actively Cycling– going absolutely insane trying to keep up with medication schedules, recovering from surgery, preparing for transfer, or anxiously waiting for results.

3) Pregnant– going absolutely insane praying that the pregnancy sticks and that all tests are all normal. Moments of insanity are often interrupted by giddiness and feelings of pure bliss that are then again interrupted by the MOST. INTENSE. FEAR. EVER.

4) On a Break– going absolutely insane keeping up with a newborn, truly losing your mind recovering from a loss or failed cycle, or freaking out as you try to find a way to save money or somehow otherwise prepare for the next cycle.

Are you noticing a theme here? IVF makes you certifiable and for a variety of reasons depending on where you are in the process.  But three of the four areas have one very distinct symptom of insanity, a deeply disturbing fascination with toilet paper.

And that is how I spent my weekend and most of the day today until I hit the jackpot just in time to call my clinic before they closed. I had to tell them today it was GO TIME. Time to send me a calendar and set that magical date for embryo transfer (March 13th!!!) so I can feel like I am moving toward something again. And maybe plan a meeting, trip, party, or even a stinking date night or two instead of endlessly waiting to find out when it will fall.

I spent every moment I could find in the last  few days staring at toilet paper looking for some sign that my favorite Aunt was on her way.  I drank a ton of water and detox tea just so I could have a reasonable excuse to go check even more often while at work. I tried to move around a lot to help get things going. Why? That sweet moment of arrival means you can move out of the first category, quickly transition into the second cateogry, and then in less than a calendar month arrive in the Promised Land of Category Number Three. And the irony of this phase is that most of us suffering with infertility have spent countless hours inspecting toilet paper in the hopes that nothing will be there, except of course a little bit of spotting that might, just might be a sign that one of your little embryos has nestled in and implanted.

When you are in category number two and actively cycling you are also checking your TP. You want to make sure the meds have worked. You look for signs of implantation bleeding. You might even have your husband look at it .”Honey does that look a little pink to you? I hope its implantation bleeding and not my period, God please don’t let it be my period! Do you think its my period?”

Then of course when you finally get to the Promised Land of Category Three you go totally bizarro wacko with the checking, especially if you are one of the unfortunate few who has actually experienced a previous loss. For all of us who suffer from infertility its hard to believe that the dream really could come true. It could really happen to you (it can, by the way!).

The only time we don’t stare at toilet paper is when we are in category four and on a break. But now that I think about that, maybe not for those of you who may be able to get pregnant naturally and are hoping NOT to right away for some very good reason. At least not until your infant sleeps through the night at least once. Or maybe you are waiting for you body to heal from that last loss. Or enough money to put gas in the car to drive to the grocery store to buy that outrageously priced pregnancy test.  Nope, scratch that , any IVF gal would gladly sell her soul for a natural pregnancy regardless of current financial position.

But pretty much all the rest of the time, yes, we are looking. As long as we are still trying to start our family or complete it I guess we have a deeply disturbing fascination with toilet paper.

Meet the Winslow’s- My First Blog Post

Laughter Through Tears is designed as a safe haven for the fertility obsessed to come and fuel their addiction in a positive way. It is a way for me to share our story. It is a way for me to remember to laugh. It is a way for others to publish humorous content related to a typically unfunny subject.

I promise that there will be no hormone induced venting. No pity parties. No gory details about the inner workings of my anatomy. Just me searching for the lighter side of a tough topic and hopefully helping a few people have hope and humor along the way.

Meet the Winslow’s

My husband Bill and I have been married for eight years. We started trying to get pregnant soon after we married and it didn’t happen in the first 6 months. I never charted body temperature or peed on a stick and waited for a smiley face to appear. We didn’t try that hard at first.  I think once or twice I did hold my legs up in the air for fifteen minutes or so after one of our baby making sessions. But we thought that was a riot, it was fun, we weren’t too concerned. Well… not too concerned.

Just when I was beginning to think something might be a little off,  I was promoted to a mid level executive position with my company (a commercial bank) that required me to be away from home as many as four nights a week every week. We decided to put baby making on hold for a year or two and focus on my career. It was a great opportunity and hopefully a stepping stone to something bigger in a couple of years that would pay more and allow me to be close to home. I was on the fast track. Officially in the “talent pool” so to speak.

In 2008 things changed in the banking business as you may have noticed. There was a little bit of a financial crisis and a restructuring gave me the opportunity to go into a job at the same grade level, slightly better pay, but with much less travel. (Admittedly the little financial crisis worked out better for me than most but since Bill is a realtor we considered it a wash).

Just like that we were back in the baby making business!

I mentioned our plans to my OB during my regular visit and casually told him of our previous attempts. Because of my age, 34 at the time, he decided to do an ultrasound just to see how the plumbing looked. He immediately referred me to a fertility specialist, suspecting my tubes were completely filled with fluid.  The specialist confirmed the diagnosis and removed the tubes to give us the best chance possible with what would be the only way we could conceive, In Vitro Fertilization. IVF. Test tube baby making (which is actually a misnomer, they use petri dishes).

We never did any of the other usual “stuff” leading up to IVF. No IUIs, no Chlomid.  We passed “Go” and went straight to IVF. So, I am pretty useless on the topic of other reproductive treatments.

As a busy working woman I remember thinking “cool, this way I can just schedule our pregnancy. Maternity leave in the summer here in Northern Michigan would be AWESOME. We will schedule it, the lab and doctor will do the hard work,  I will pick the time when they will put that fertilized egg back and whammo, I’ll be knocked up!”

Um… not that simple. NOTHING about IVF is simple.

Over the next few years, four embryo transfers and tens of thousands of dollars we finally had a little girl who I will call “Spork” in this blog because she is not old enough to tell me if she wants me writing in a public forum about her. The name Spork comes from what Bill has always called the Pebbles Flintstone like pony tail that perpetually stood in the center of her head during her first year of life.  It has become a nickname for her and makes for a fine pseudonym. Spork was born in January of 2012. It was middle of flu season and temperatures were sub zero for most of my maternity leave. By then I couldn’t care less.

We have been trying to give her a sibling since January of 2013 and once again it has been a long road. This long road winds around two clinics, three more embryos transfers, and one heartbreaking miscarriage. We just had a a failed cycle last week (transfer number 7, embryo numbers 18 and 19). We have one more genetically normal embryo on ice and will be transferring it as soon as we can. Time waits for no ovary!

As painful as all this has been, we have experienced joy from time to time along the way. We have learned to stay positive at the most grim of times. We have met amazing people who are loving and dedicated in their field. Since we started sharing our story openly we have had been inspired by so many others that have experienced challenges with fertility.

Sure we have hormone fueled fights (guaranteed at least one for every cycle… you think I would learn what estrogen does to me and avoid them, but no). Yes we sometimes lose hope. We aren’t perfect pollyanna types. We cry sometimes. But we laugh too.

And sometimes we laugh through our tears.

I hope from time to time you will too.

Thank you for reading. Enjoy!