Got an Embryo Profile (yay!) but…

You all know how excited we are to move forward, but we are really torn about the profile we got today. It has a lot to recommend it. The coloring is right (more or less — two half-Mexican donors), health history is great, both like soccer, the egg donor is crazy about her own kids (and graduated from high school a year early), and the sperm donor loves to backpack and travel. Both are proven donors — she has three kids and his product has resulted in at least one live birth.

But she’s tiny — 5’2″ — and he’s only an inch taller than me at 5’7″. My husband is 6’1″. But that’s fine with both of us. Height isn’t that important. (Lionel Messi is 5’7″, and so is Gael Garcia Bernal.)

But it doesn’t really “speak” to us. A lot of the answers are brief, generic, like they didn’t put much thought into it (or maybe aren’t very thoughtful people). They’re both about 24 and neither really did college (yet).

I’m OK with it, but my husband says his instinct is to pass. He just doesn’t “click” with it. Our previous profile gave us a much better sense of the donors, and he liked their answers / vibe / ambition / intelligence much better.

I’m not totally stuck on this profile or anything, but of course there’s no guarantee the next one will be any improvement, or even when we might get the next one. This may be our high water mark for a while.

And of course, it’s always such a lottery anyway…

And this is not a deciding factor at all, but just a fact: If I take this profile, I’ll miss the Roger Waters concert on our fourth wedding anniversary. Though I suppose it’ll be even more memorable to get knocked up on that date…

It’s such a HUGE decision, it can be overwhelming and hard to find the right perspective. Whether to be choosy for the sake of our kids or “take the money and run.”

I’m really torn. Should I struggle to convince him, or just go with his instinct (and go see Roger Waters)?

How the hell are we supposed to choose who our future children are going to be on a random Tuesday night? (We only have 24 hours to decide… no pressure or anything…)

Last time it was easier somehow. We just jumped into it. This time we’re both kind of skittish and freaked out. It’s something you can’t really process. We just have to either make the leap (as nearly everyone who’s gone through the program is advising us on Facebook) or go with our gut and hang back. I have no idea how to decide.

EDIT: In the end I came around to it, even though there is a part of me that wants to hang back. There’s no logical reason for it, it’s just an instinct. But my husband just didn’t feel right, and I certainly don’t want to drag him into something he doesn’t feel right about. So, for better or worse, we’re back on the waiting list.

MATEO IS BACK!

That’s two short blog posts bookending a very painful week. Just so thankful the little goofball is safe and sound.

Ahmed always looks for him out the window, and tonight he emerged from the shadows (maybe on his way to my live trap), and Ahmed meowed to him and he meowed back and then Ahmed told me to get down there!!! I did (without even bothering to put on shoes), and Mateo started to run away into the grass (as skittish pets do when not in their element). I yelled to Ahmed to bring food, and little by little we coaxed him out and grabbed him.

He’s a little manic, pacing all over the house meowing, and looks a little older and a little wiser, but seems none the worse for wear, purring and eating and drinking up a storm.

MateoBack

Our goofy little feline garbage disposal is back!

Whew!

Lost our sweet cat Mateo

I was doing pretty well, all in all. Great weather, soccer and ballet, writing and editing, cooking and chilling with my husband, etc. The usual. Life is good.

A Palestinian friend in Beirut even offered a free feng shui consultation, and I took her advice and prettied up the house. Couldn’t hurt, right? We got a Buddha fountain and put it in an auspicious location, got under-counter lighting for the kitchen so we won’t have to use the overhead fluorescent, and even put a vinyl sticker flower mural on the laundry room wall. Best of all I cleaned our long-neglected balcony and put a lovely veranda garden out there: a gorgeous tomato plant, mint, lemon basil, cilantro, parsley, sage, rosemary, and chives. And for the cat, catnip, lemongrass, and oat grass.

I started letting the cat out onto our (second floor) balcony to watch the birds. I know it must not be super easy for a wild animal to be cooped up inside all day, but I don’t want to let him out where he can get eaten or beaten or run over, where he might pick up fleas or parasites and will be a danger to songbirds. So letting him out on the veranda seemed like a nice compromise, a nice treat for him.

I usually supervise him on the veranda but occasionally let him stay out on his own for a few minutes at a time. Every now and then he looked down, as if judging the jump, but he never jumped. I didn’t think he would. Not only because it’s a pretty big jump but also because he’s a huge coward and generally hates going outside.

It was raining on Thursday, and I sat out on the veranda with him for a while, petting him and watching the rain, feeling so lucky and happy. He’s so soft and pretty and silly, the perfect little silver lining to all our struggles. We got him in desperation after our last own-egg failure. Just something to focus on other than our broke-ass depression. He’s been a light in our lives ever since with his big white tiger paws and bushy raccoon tail.

IMG_0916

I went back inside to make dinner and left him out there watching the rain. I guess I got caught up in cooking, and pretty soon my husband came home and asked where the cat was. I noticed it wasn’t raining anymore. “On the veranda,” I said, but I had a sinking feeling.

He wasn’t on the veranda. He wasn’t anywhere. Dinner was abandoned as we walked around for three hours searching for him. We live in the middle of a big scrubby grassland park bounded by a creek, a river, and two busy streets. Our huge apartment complex is the only human habitation around. There are just millions of places for a cat to hide, and often when they’re scared, they hunker down in silence, sometimes for days.

We bugged every neighbor and jogger and biker we came across, put flyers up everywhere, mass-emailed our entire apartment complex, offered a $100 reward, posted to local lost and found FB groups, and checked the shelter. I’ve left food and water out every night, left his litter box out where he can smell it, and left his cat carrier with his favorite blanket and our dirty clothes. So far no sign of him whatsoever.

It’s been four days now. Half a dozen neighbors have called to tell us they found our cat, but it’s always this other GIANT grey cat (I think he’s half mountain lion or something) with a yellow collar, and I have a feeling that cat is chasing Mateo off if he’s trying to come back. My husband even got a live trap from the shelter, and we’re trying to see if we can get him that way. But I have a feeling we’ll just catch that other damn grey cat (or a skunk), if anything.

And since we live on the second floor, and he jumped off the balcony, he’s going to have no idea where our front door is or what it looks like.

He’s still just a kid, basically, not quite a year old. I thought we’d have him for a decade at least. He’d be our kids’ first pet. I feel so guilty. He was my responsibility, and I let him down. And to top it off, it has thunderstormed almost every single night since he went missing.

It’s very dispiriting, and we’re worried sick. If we knew he was OK — that maybe we were meant to raise him up from a sick, scrawny kitten, get him treated and get his shots, feed him and play with him ’til he was big and strong, and then let him back into the wild, or that another loving family had taken him in — I could live with it. But imagining him cold and wet and hungry and terrified somewhere, or washed into the river and drowned after he sought refuge in a storm drain, is heartbreaking.

It’s a small thing in the scheme of things, I suppose, but our house is just so empty without him.

No news on the donor embryo front, either. Just waiting for a match. And waiting.

Life was just starting to seem bright and beautiful again, and now the dark cloud is back. Literally as well with all this rain. I wish I could be the one shivering out in the rain instead of him. I hope his innate survival instincts kick in somehow. This little goofball who thinks he’s hiding when he’s crouched behind a sock… (Not a ball of socks, just a single sock.) I hope he’s finding food, water, and shelter somehow. On Thursday it’ll be a full week since he went missing.

Top 15 Things Not to Say to the Fertility-Challenged

Fair warning: I wrote this in kind of a snarky, bitchy way that I sometimes find therapeutic. So if cursing and sarcasm aren’t your thing, you might want to skip this one.

Dammit, I’m pregnant again!

If your problem is that you’re pregnant again — for free, with your own egg and your husband’s sperm — for the love of God, go talk to someone else about it. Please don’t complain to me. My ability to be a good friend has its limits. This is one of them.

Also, if I’m ever starving and homeless, please don’t complain to me about how expensive money managers are these days and how you just can’t keep track of all your dividends. Even if you’re genuinely bummed about it.

Kthxbi.

Hey, at least you can get drunk and sleep in, heh heh.

I’ll remember that next time I refrain from not just alcohol but also caffeine and sugar and sometimes wheat and definitely dairy for months and years at a time or get up at the crack of dawn to have a needle stuck in my arm and a camera shoved up my lady bits at a clinic instead of, you know, feeding the baby I don’t have. Heh heh.

Listen dumbass: If I gave a shit about getting drunk and sleeping in, why in the hell would I be trying so hard to have a child?

Someone put it like this: If a person’s mother has just died, would you say: “Hey, at least you don’t have to worry about Mother’s Day cards anymore, heh heh!”

I very sincerely hope not.

You have plenty of time. It’ll happen!

I don’t know that, and you certainly don’t know that. So why are you saying it?

Sometimes it never happens. That’s a real — and for some people, terrifying — possibility. It might make you feel better to pretend away worst case scenarios. I don’t have that luxury.

Whose fault is it?

Er… it’s nobody’s fault. What kind of question is that?

If you want to know our personal medical information, well — crazy as it sounds — that’s kinda personal. Did I ask you about your latest pap smear?

If we want to volunteer our private medical information, we will. But as a general rule, don’t ask. Unless you’re going through something similar and genuinely looking for information and advice. Then ask away.

In general terms: about a third of the time, the woman is the limiting factor. About a third of the time, it’s the man. The rest of the time it’s both or no one knows.

For the record: I have endometriosis and I’ve had surgery on both ovaries. Things still look good — my endometriosis is well under control, and my ovaries healed beautifully and seem to work just fine, and Ahmed is healthy as a horse. We’re still not sure why it hasn’t worked for us yet. And yeah, that sucks.

Maybe it’s a sign.

Er… a sign of what? That unlike all those Sixteen and Pregnant girls, I’ve somehow found disfavor with God? That I would be a horrible mother? That the universe is a cruel, soulless place?

Or maybe that you’re a supercilious, unoriginal asshole? Yes, I may be seeing a sign of that!

Just relax!

In surveys across the nation, this is definitely the number one most hated piece of bullshit fertility advice of all time. (OK, I don’t know about any surveys, but it tops the list of most people I know.)

Right. Four years and thousands of dollars later, this is what we must have missed. It’s not the endometriosis, the adhesions, the cysts, the surgeries, possible autoimmune issues, bad luck, or some other factor we haven’t yet identified. I’m just uptight, that’s all!

Thanks, because I definitely wasn’t blaming myself for this enough until now.

Not to mention, learning to genuinely relax when you’re in the middle of surgeries and stress and hemorrhaging money and wondering and hurting and fear and travel and shots and hormones and drugs and disappointments and constantly evolving life plans is some serious Jedi-level ninja shit.

It’s like telling someone who’s sad to smile. Everyone wants to smile, right? And everyone wants to be relaxed. Everyone wants to be calm. But telling people, “Hey, just change your emotional state!” is condescending, insensitive, and fucking annoying.

And some people have real medical issues that can literally never be solved no matter how much they relax. Is that really a wound you want to rub salt into?

“Just go on vacation!” people say. “It’ll happen!”

We’ve been on a number of vacations in the past four years. One of them lasted a whole month.

Still no baby.

It could be worse. At least you don’t have cancer / aren’t getting a divorce / haven’t suffered through a nuclear holocaust.

Next time you have a car accident, or a spinal injury, or your house is broken into, or your phone is stolen, I’ll be sure to remind you of all the worse things that could have happened. I’m sure it’ll be just as helpful.

Look. It’s not news to anyone that whatever bad thing happens to them, it could have been worse. Like all humans, we strive to count our blessings and keep things in perspective. But what this sounds like is, “Whatever thing is traumatizing you right now is really no big deal!”

Just a general piece of life advice: Glibly brightsiding someone else’s pain, especially when it’s raw, is almost always a dick move.

Pain and suffering are not competitions.

Have you tried bee pollen / reverse cowgirl / shiatsu massage / lemon meringue pie? We did that the month we got pregnant!

I hate to tell you this, but it probably wasn’t the pollen or the pie.

You probably just got lucky.

And believe me, if you got pregnant quickly and you’ve heard of some fertility wonder cure, I’ve probably not only heard of it, I’ve done extensive research into double-blind placebo-controlled studies or, barring that, strong anecdotal evidence.

So feel free to offer suggestions. But 99% of the time, don’t be surprised if I look at you like LeBron James would if you casually offered him unsolicited advice about how to improve his jumpshot.

Have you heard about IVF?

I have a Master’s degree in IVF, bitch. And a lot of other motherfucking assisted reproductive acronyms you’ve never even heard of.

Pray you never do.

Have you thought about just adopting?

Actually, I’ve never heard of adoption until just right now! What is it, exactly? What does it involve? How long does it take? How invasive is it? How much does it cost?

Wait… you don’t know? You’ve never done it before and you have no idea what it involves? The closest you’ve come to it is picking up a rescue dog?

Then hey, have you considered fucking right off?

Sorry to be harsh. We know you mean well. But in the spirit of honesty — this is what we’re thinking when you say that so casually.

Adoption is a beautiful option for many people, and it may one day be for us. But it may not be, for many complicated and deeply personal reasons. It’s certainly not something you ‘just’ do, like moseying down to the nearest orphanage and picking one out on your way to the grocery store.

It costs tens of thousands of dollars, requires months or years of uncertainty and invasiveness, and can end in utter heartbreak if the birth mother changes her mind at the last minute — heartbreak almost on par with a stillbirth.

Closed adoption, open adoption, foster adoption, and international adoption all come with their own issues and pitfalls. Some people can’t even qualify for one or more types for a variety of reasons, or can’t afford them.

Again, I want to stress: It’s a wonderful option for many people.

But think about it: If you thought up this genius idea in zero point two seconds, do you really think it hasn’t occurred to us in the past four years?

As soon as my friend decided to adopt, she got pregnant!

Let’s go over this one more time: Deciding to adopt is not something you do lightly. You’re making a commitment for life, laying your personal life open to invasive agencies, and putting tens of thousands of dollars on the line. And for all that, shockingly enough, it’s still not actually a magical pregnancy tonic, no matter what happened on Grey’s Anatomy.

But since you believe coincidence is the same as causality, I’ll be happy to sell you a rock that keeps tigers away. I’ve had the rock for years and haven’t seen a tiger once!

Trust me, you don’t want kids. Mine drive me crazy! Ha ha!

For the record, this is like joking to a paraplegic, “Trust me, you don’t want legs. People make you take out the trash and shit. I’d rather just sit and play video games! Ha ha!”

Just… don’t.

Just get a dog!

Fuck you.

You’ll get pregnant the minute you stop trying!

Right. And I’m sure I’ll finish that novel as soon as I stop writing, and the house will be spotless the minute I stop cleaning!

Even if this were true — and statistically speaking, it’s not — how am I supposed to consciously tell myself to stop wanting the one thing I most dearly want, the thing I’ve been working toward for years? Honestly, how is that supposed to work?

Or am I condemned to childlessness until I genuinely give up?

WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?

Everything happens for a reason!

forareason

To be fair, maybe everything does happen for a reason. But neither of us really knows that. And it’s sure as hell not something I’d blithely say to someone who’s been in a car accident or who’s been diagnosed with a degenerative disease.

So why say it to people struggling to have a family?

There you have it. All the things you shouldn’t say. (Please don’t.)

What should you say?

Offer an ear. Offer a hug. Offer a word of genuine sympathy. Listen more than you talk. Ask questions rather than making hasty (and ill-informed) statements. Understand that while it is a big deal (to us), it’s not contagious, and you don’t have to make it better in the next thirty seconds.

Don’t be dismissive. Don’t minimize. Don’t make it more about your discomfort than our predicament. Just be there with us a little.

Also remember that we’re more than our current struggles. Talk to us about other things. Invite us do things or just hang out. Tell us you’re sending good thoughts our way and hoping for our success.

That’s it, basically. Be present. Be kind. Ask. Listen.

Good advice for being a better person, and a better friend, in general. 🙂

Mrs. Brightside

Now that I’m trying not to choke on impatience as I wait for my next donor embryo profile (they say it can take one to three months; occasionally it takes longer; I don’t know if I can even hold out another week), and feeling fresh new surges of jealousy of every woman moving on with her life and seeing two healthy heartbeats or cuddling her kids while I remain marooned on Fertility-Challenged Island, it seems like a good time for that “let’s look on the bright side” post.

Believe me, I am not trying to suggest this stuff “isn’t so hard after all.” I’m neither stupid nor heartless. But this is the best I can make out of each Suck from the last post.

Every now and then, when I’m in the right mood, it actually helps me feel a little better. Your mileage may vary.

TEN: Disruption of Life

Yeah, hormones can have physical side effects, and getting up early and getting stuck with so many needles is no fun. But if that was all there was to it, I’d barely think twice.

NINE: Invasion of Privacy

It’s super annoying at first, but you get used to it. Sometimes it takes a village not just to raise a child, but to make one. I’m tired of it — tired of having strangers involved in our personal life — but again, if this was all there was to it, I could deal.

EIGHT: Waiting

As mentioned above, I’m stuck in a “waiting” spot right now, and it’s hard not to let it make you ansty as hell. But it’s excellent practice for staying present. Easier said than done, and if you’re not careful, it can truly drive you mad. But it doesn’t need to. Usually life is pretty good, even if it’s not exactly what you thought you signed up for.

I’ve also been careful to have “insurance” plans in place, which means I’m always making plans I’m excited about that I might have to cancel if I got pregnant (or was in the middle of treatment). So if I didn’t get pregnant, at least I’d have that, and if I did get pregnant — great!

I’ve managed to visit six new countries and take a 6,000-mile road trip and write a novel and take ballet lessons and play sooooo much soccer while we’ve been trying to conceive. And my husband changed his career completely and found a terrific job in his new self-taught field (web design and development).

My current “insurance” plans include spring soccer league (ongoing), signing up for ballet again (10 more lessons for $100), and a Roger Waters concert on June 1 (our fourth wedding anniversary)

I am frustrated that I’ve put off serious career advancement for myself until “the kids are in school.” I could have gotten a whole new bachelor’s degree since we started trying. But that’s on me, I guess. (Good God, though, I never thought just having a kid would take 4+ years…) And I have been enjoying my “for now” work of writing and editing, and it’s also given me lots of time for my own writing. And it’s forced me into some serious personal growth.

SEVEN: Fear

Fear is rarely a useful emotion. Even when I had a loaded gun pointed at me for several seconds (Israeli soldier in Ramallah at night) in a situation where people are regularly killed with impunity, it turned out fear wasn’t useful. Fear could have made me panic, do something stupid. What I felt was a preternatural calm. I knew things could go one way or another, and the only thing on my mind was figuring out how I could best contribute to keeping the situation from going the way I didn’t want it to go. Fear would only have been a distraction.

It’s been harder to find that clarity on this “journey” because the fear is chronic, and setbacks cause it to flare. But, again, this is an excellent “class” for working on mastering fear. Which to me means seeing the fear for what it is: well-intentioned, but not actually helpful. And letting it make its noise if it must but not letting it dominate my landscape.

Losses are losses, whether you made yourself more or less miserable with worry leading up to them. And all things being equal, it’s generally better not to make yourself miserable. The outcome will almost certainly be the same either way.

SIX: Feeling like a Failure

Obviously we are not failures. We’re just having a hard time with one activity. Not everyone is effortlessly good at everything. I’m good at math. I’m apparently not so quick at conceiving and carrying a child. Or as a friend of mine put it, “Some of us just have to work for it.”

And those of us who do will never, ever, ever for a moment take for granted the intricate miracle of what this is. And those kids will never, ever, ever for a moment wonder whether they were deeply, dearly wanted.

And hell, if I’m jealous sometimes of people who conceive easily, I’m jealous. It just means I’m very clear on what I want.

FIVE: The Endless Unknown

It’s frustrating not knowing exactly what the problem is or how to fix it, and it sucks that I’ve spent so many hours and days and weeks of my life searching for that elusive answer, trying new supplements and interventions, never quite knowing if I’m wasting my time or if this next thing will be exactly what we need.

But in the end you do your best, trust as much as you can, try what you can afford that looks promising, and try not to tear your hair out in the meantime. If I had this to do over again… Honestly I don’t know if I’d change anything. I did spend too much time researching, in the end, and sometimes going in circles. But I’m someone who needs to know what is known. Nothing makes me crazier than flying in the dark, feeling like I have no agency.

The fact that a lot of this remains unknown in general (it’s the Wild West of medicine right now)… That sucks. But at least I more or less know what the unknowns are. That helps my control freak personality relax just a little. And helped me come to this place where I’m comfortable just going with the statistics and finding a donor embryo clinic that has the best numbers around.

Other people might be better off just listening to their doctors.

Not gonna lie. I wish I was one of them.

FOUR: The Stigma

Maybe it’s just me, but this is bothering me less and less lately. It’s true, a lot of people have lame or ignorant or judgy ideas. That is really their problem. Meanwhile I am rocking along on an incredible quest doing the absolute best I can. And the more open I am about it, the more people learn learn about it and maybe think a bit differently about it in the future. It feels nice to be “trailblazing” in this way, even if it’s not a subject I would have chosen. It chose me. So it goes.

And even though some people are annoying, most people are very accepting and encouraging, and a shocking number say, “We’re going through it, too!” and seem very relieved someone else brought it up first. It’s much more common than people realize. There’s no one who doesn’t know someone going through it, whether they realize it or not.

Trying to act normal when you feel anything but can be very draining. But learning to actually feel OK even when life isn’t happening the way you planned is a wonderful skill to nurture. It’s some Jedi Ninja-level shit, but if you can pull it off — even begin to start pulling it off — it’s a gift that can serve you all through life.

THREE: Pain and Guilt

This is hard. There’s no sugarcoating it. As for the pain, you learn coping mechanisms. (I could write a whole other post on those. Probably should.)

As for the guilt, you try your best to remember that you took vows, and you took them very seriously, and you ought to give your husband the benefit of the doubt that he did, too. You’re in this together. It’s not what you would have chosen, but life doesn’t always give you strawberry popsicles. It’s just part of being an adult human. Plenty of couples have dealt with plenty worse. And we’re still solid, still have a sense of humor, and that says a lot about us, as individuals and as a couple. If we weren’t tested so much, we’d never have known what we were capable of.

TWO: The Soul-crushing Expense

Another one that’s tough to sugarcoat. But we chose this as something important enough to pursue even though it was difficult, and we had the resources to try IVF three times and now donor embryos up to six times. Not everyone has that choice. Yes, we’ve lost our nest egg and we have nothing and we may go into debt, but plenty of people are still in debt from college, or from credit cards, or from a nasty divorce, or from being underwater on their home.

At the end of the day, it’s just money. Money is a fiction, really. Numbers and pieces of paper that everyone agrees have value, even though they actually don’t. It can undoubtedly have real-world consequences, but for most of us who can even consider spending everything we have on starting a family, we’ll probably be fine. In ten years this will be a blip on the radar. We will have to give up some thing that we expected to get, but we will not go hungry. And the best things in life remain free.

And to be honest, I really enjoyed living in an apartment when I was a kid. The space meant little to me (I was small), and there were lots of kids around to play with and a terrific playground. (There’s one here, too, and a river.) And a new car or an old car — I mean, honestly, how much does this affect the quality of your day-to-day life?

We’ve already trimmed most of the fat we could, and it’s fine. We have no cable (who needs 55 channels of cooking shows?), the slowest possible internet (which is usually indistinguishable from the fastest), we rarely eat out (unless we find a two-for-one coupon for Schlotzsky’s). We both have Google Voice, which gives us free calls and texts from our computers, and we each have pay-as-you-go cell phones for emergencies that cost about $7 a month. We don’t drink foofy coffee drinks or carbonated beverages. We drink tea at 25 cents a bag, water, and diluted fruit juice. We’re not planning any vacations for the next, oh, decade or so, unless it’s to visit family or go camping.

In short, we’ll figure it out, and it will be far more than worth it. Otherwise we’d have made different choices. And we were damn lucky to have those choices available to us.

Comparing ourselves to others, or to what we “should” have, can be really hard. So maybe we shouldn’t do that. Maybe we should just enjoy the unique blessings of being who we are.

ONE: Time Passing

But believe me, I know how hard it can be not to live in counterfactuals. Something else “should have” happened. We “should have” been parents by now. This whole nightmare “should never have” happened.

When you live like that, you’re living in resistance. And that is painful, because it’s bullshit.

Simple facts: This is real. This is life. This is my path. I’m not on pause. I’m not in some alternate dimension. This is it. I’m right here, and I’m on a quest. An amazing one with unimaginable rewards.

Other people don’t need this quest. They just stumble onto the prize. Good for them. But can they ever truly appreciate it? Can the full fragile unlikely miracle of it ever fully enter their consciousness? I hope so. But their experience will be very different from ours.

Some people are born into wealth, others have to work for it from the ground up. Two very different paths. Who’s to say which is better?

I hear from so many people that after years and years of trying to have kids, they end up feeling like they are glad they spent all those years because they ended up with exactly the children they were meant to have. (In one touching story, a little girl said, “God just needed more time to make me,” or something like that. I can’t remember it exactly, but it was really cute.) This always makes me smile.

I’m not one of those “everything happens for a reason” people. I used to be, but tell that to the people in Syria. It’s honestly a cruel thing to say to people going through hard times. Sometimes shitty things just happen.

But we humans do have an incredible capacity for conjuring meaning out of thin air. For finding the meaning in shitty situations. For learning to be a better and more empathetic person after going through hardships.

And you truly never know what’s around the bend. I mean, if you want to live in counterfactuals, you can always go the other way. For example:

  • If I’d had a kid when I wanted to, at age 34, maybe the kid would have died or had serious problems, or I’d have died in childbirth.
  • Maybe the kid I have at 38 or 40 will save my life when I’m 50, otherwise I would have died at that young age. Hence, having a kid later in life will actually mean more time to spend with my kids.
  • Maybe our kids will keep us young, and our friends with older kids will be super jealous of us.
  • Maybe our kids will get knocked up really young so we’ll have plenty of time with our grandkids after all. (Ha.)
  • Maybe in four years I’ll be looking back and thinking, “It all happened just as it was supposed to.”

In other words, it may be worse than I imagined (as it was during these past four years, though the past four years certainly weren’t all bad) or it may be a thousand times better.

Either way, what’s the point of being sour-pussed now?

So this is me, trying not to be sour-pussed, trying not to be spoiled and ungrateful for the many, many blessings in my life, trying not to spend all my time tapping my foot like an impatient cartoon waiting for the next step. Trying to be truly present, not living merely in phantoms like hopes, fears, anger and resistance.

Recognizing I’m human and trying not to give myself too hard a time when I inevitably stamp my foot and gnash my teeth. (Hey, it’ll give me that much more empathy for my toddler(s), right?)

Trying to breathe when all I want to do is fight against a reality I didn’t choose. (There are effective ways to struggle toward your goals, but for each there are a thousand ineffective ways.)

Using all the skills I’ve learned to get back to a good place each time I start sliding toward the bad place. (Writing is one thing that helps. Meditating, exercising, reading good books, and spending time in nature are other classics. And sometimes spending time with kids, even though it can be bittersweet.)

BONUS: Eating healthy, supplements, etc.

At first all this bullshit healthy eating made me feel like some kind of lame-ass nun doing penance for a sin I never committed.

But after being on a healthy diet for long enough, a lot of the old crappy “comfort” foods don’t even taste as good as they used to. A little wine now and then is nice, but it doesn’t feel as good as it used to. I can take it or leave it. Coffee and chocolate don’t taste as good as they used to, either. This may sound horrifying to some people, but for me it’s nice. A smoothie of frozen blackberries and mango chunks with almond milk and half a banana is more satisfying to me now than a bowl of ice cream. That can only be a good thing, right?

After all, most of the “comfort” food we’ve been conditioned to eat is scientifically designed to make our tastebuds moan in simulated pleasure while offering very little in the way of nutrition — and we see the results of that in our society. Getting into healthy habits in my thirties will hopefully carry forward for a lifetime and into my children’s lives as well.

Hell, these healthy habits alone may end up prolonging my life longer than the years we’ve spent trying to conceive! Which would make it REALLY stupid for me to be complaining now.

All that said… Please, please, please send us a good embryo profile soon. We’re burning daylight, people.

 

Top Ten Things that Suck about Delayed Fertility

Now that yet another small flicker of hope for a miracle last-minute natural pregnancy has been extinguished, I’m gonna get this post off my chest, which I’ve been meaning to write for a while. It’s my Top Ten Things that Suck about Delayed Fertility (assuming we do eventually become parents — if not, that’s a whole other list).

These are in order from least bad to worst.

TEN: Disruption of Life

Early mornings. Needles. Hormones. Pills. Supplements. Making sure you take them all at the proper time, in the right order. Ultrasounds, dear god, the endless ultrasounds.

I suppose spending six months in Istanbul wasn’t so bad, but the fact that it involved so much medical intervention and heartbreak didn’t exactly make it feel like a vacation. And now I have to travel to California from Oklahoma multiple times, since that’s the only clinic that offers the treatment we opted for next in an affordable way.

NINE: Invasion of Privacy

I guess you get used to it after a while, but it’s still grating that we have to take something that’s supposed to be natural and beautiful (and private!) and turn it into a sordid technological nightmare with endless spectators. I know intellectually that it’s a miracle, but Good God I wish we could be left alone to get on with it!

EIGHT: Waiting

Waiting… waiting… waiting… Waiting for the next cycle to start. Waiting for your eggs to grow. Waiting for the fertilization report, the growth and survival report, for your lining to grow, for beta results, for a seven-week ultrasound. Waiting to miscarry. Waiting to try again. Waiting to get your saline ultrasound, waiting for your next surgery, waiting for a donor embryo profile…

And I think I’m up to 40 two-week waits by now. Don’t get me started on those.

SEVEN: Fear

So many fears, many of which have already come true: I did need surgery (four times). This did take more than four years. We did lose all of our savings. I did miscarry, twice.

And now: The paralyzing fear that the next round will be a negative; that even if it’s positive, the ultrasound will reveal no heartbeat (I’ve yet to see a heartbeat despite two pregnancies); that this will never work; that we’ll end up deeply in debt and still childless.

SIX: Feeling like a Failure

If you get in a devastating car accident or fall into some other misfortune through no fault of your own, no one thinks less of you as a person, and I’m guessing most people don’t blame themselves, either. But for some reason it’s hard not to feel like a failure when you have trouble reproducing. There’s such expectation around it, such social pressure. Yet at the very same time, it’s thought of as somehow trifling, not a “real” problem. So if you end up spending a lot of money on medical treatments, it’s thought of as “extravagant.” (Thanks, Octomom.)

So it’s very much a double-edged sword: If you don’t have kids, you’re a freak, but if you try too hard to have kids, you’re a profligate weirdo. (And in some liberal circles, you’re practically an ecoterrorist if you want to have kids at all.) I know I shouldn’t care what others think, and I’m learning not to, but it’s kind of “out there.” You can smell it on the wind.

(To be clear, I’m not having kids to satisfy society’s expectations. It’s something I’ve always deeply, personally wanted. Just remarking on our society’s atmosphere in general.)

Meanwhile it’s also hard not to feel like a failure in at least one other way: You try and try and try not to feel ragingly jealous of people who pop out kids like it’s going out of style — sometimes on accident. You try and try to remember that someone else’s gain isn’t your loss. You try to feel happy for them. And most of the time, you succeed.

But there are times when you want to rip the universe’s asshole out through it’s eye. Like when you’re miscarrying and you check Facebook to distract yourself only to find a friend younger than you announcing Number 3.

There doesn’t seem to be much you can do against that.

FIVE: The Endless Unknown

Writ large, about one-third of the time, fertility issues fall mostly on the female side, one-third of the time they fall mostly on the male side, and one-third of the time it’s both or unknown.

We’re in the fuzzy third category, which means there’s no simple fix. The general diagnosis seems to be “bad luck” and the general prescription seems to be “keep trying.”

But that’s not good enough for me. I want to know what’s going on. So I ended up doing enough research in the past four years that I should have at least a Master’s degree in this subject by now. Turns out there are literally hundreds of things that can go wrong, hundreds of interconnected steps and cellular processes, hundreds of points that can stop the whole process in its tracks. Sometimes I’m amazed anyone has ever naturally conceived a child in the history of the world.

And, with the industry booming, there’s no shortage of “miracle cures” and “promising procedures and protocols” that aren’t thoroughly tested but that plenty of people swear by. Of course, most people who keep trying are eventually successful, and it could be a complete coincidence that they were finally successful when they used EmbryoGlue(TM). A part of me wants to throw everything I have at it, and another part feels like I’m being hustled by Ron Popeil.

And with all that, all those countless hours I’ve spent, I still don’t really know what our main issue is or how to fix it. I could spend another five years and $100,000 trying to figure it out. Instead, we’re going for donor embryos, which take 90% of the things that can go wrong and put them on someone else, on healthy young donors. But I still wonder if there’s just one silver bullet that could have saved us all this money and all this time and all this heartache. I probably always will.

I’m kind of a control freak, if it wasn’t clear already. And I’ve never felt such loss of control as I’ve felt through this process.

FOUR: The Stigma

If you get cancer, no one blames you or judges you or gives you unsolicited advice about treatment. Yet when it comes to fertility issues, people want to know what’s wrong with you, what you did to deserve it. Did you eat badly? Keep your cell phone holstered to your ovaries? Are you too uptight? (Just relax!) Did you wait too long?

I think a part of this comes from the old “just world theory” (aka “blaming the victim”). No one likes to think bad things happen to good people for no reason. People like to feel protected from catastrophe, so they distance themselves from people who are going through bad times, whether they are poor, in prison, or a battered member of another race. There’s nothing more terrifying than a story about a vegan non-smoker who got lung cancer. Is no one safe?

No. No one is safe. It can literally happen to anyone.

We started trying when he was 30 and I was 33. Half the people who try IVF are younger than 35. Nearly 15% of couples will take more than a year or two to get pregnant, and a whole lot of those will end up needing an intervention of some kind. Most of it has to do with medical conditions that are no one’s fault. Most of the time, it’s just the luck of the draw. And for those who did meet their perfect partners later in life, who the hell is anyone to judge their desire to be parents?

Yet because there is such a stigma around it, people don’t talk about it, so even though it’s very normal, it’s still not “normalized.” The majority of people do, thankfully, have a pretty easy time with fertility, and they stay in their blissful bubble while we fertility-challeged folk seek each other out because no one else wants to talk about it. Definitely a “red state / blue state” kind of thing.

There’s also a judgment for “taking hormones” and spending tens of thousands of dollars — as if we’re so eager to do it. As if we’d do it at all if we didn’t feel completely backed into a corner.

People tend to say, with just the slightest tinge of polite confusion, as if maybe you’re kind of an idiot, “Didn’t you think about adoption?”

Well, given that you came up with that in 0.2 seconds, do you really think we haven’t thought of it in the past four years?

Yes, adoption is an option, but guess what? It also costs tens of thousands of dollars, and it also comes with endless freighted considerations, not to mention requirements and qualifications, which not everyone can easily meet. It can also take years, and it can also come with unspeakable heartache. It’s a great option for some, but it’s not as simple as going down to the baby store and picking one out. If it were, believe me, we’d have done it already.

It’s a deeply personal decision, one that you very likely cannot understand unless you’ve been faced with it yourself and have been in our particular circumstances. Both extremely unlikely, because anyone who actually has adopted would never throw the idea around so casually.

(But if you have adopted, and you feel like offering insights or advice, I’m all ears!)

Anyway. Because everyone has a judgment or opinion or just avoids the subject after your third or fourth round of bad news (and who can blame them?), you end up avoiding people and avoiding the subject yourself, even though it’s consuming your life, your time, and all your money. You start to feel a bit schizophrenic. And lonely.

To top it all off, there are no narratives/movies/novels of fertility problems. By definition, NOTHING HAPPENS for months or years at a time. It’s boring and depressing. It’s bad storytelling. In the movies and TV shows, people get pregnant so easily, and no one ever miscarries (it drives me NUTS when someone gets a single positive pregnancy test and acts like they’re guaranteed a baby — and of course they are, because the writers control the outcome, not biology), and it’s all fun and funny and cute.

It will never be fun and funny and cute for me. I’ll be a nervous wreck, at least until well into the second trimester, and even then I know far too well how many things can go wrong. The whole thing has turned from a miraculous rite of passage into a grim battle, with (so far) nothing but long stretches of tense waiting punctuated by occasional bursts of deep heartache.

And there’s no social model for that. You’re kind of on your own.

THREE: Pain and Guilt

The pain of all this is bad enough, and it is pretty much indescribable to anyone who hasn’t gone through it. If you either wanted kids and had them easily, or never wanted them in the first place, the experience we’re going through is completely alien to you. It was alien to me before I was in it.

Only now do I know how it feels to have the most important decision of your life taken out of your hands. Only now do I know what it’s like to know precisely what your next step in life is, to feel in your bones exactly what you are supposed to do — something that’s supposed to be simple, the most natural thing in the world, something that will change everything forever — only to have the door slammed in your face over and over and over again, for years.

Only now do I know what it’s like to go from the transcendent joy of a positive pregnancy test to the depths of finding out it was all an illusion that will soon be over. Twice.

Only now do I understand the visceral ache of missing people who don’t exist, but should.

But even worse than the pain is the guilt. Despite what I know in my head, it’s hard not to feel like this is my fault somehow. And to see my husband suffer… It’s the worst thing I’ve ever experienced.

TWO: The Soul-crushing Expense

We could be on our way to buying a lovely house right now. Or we could have taken our children and traveled the world for a year. Or we could have just raised our damn kids and started their college fund, confident to have a nest egg to fall back on.

Instead, we have nothing. We rent our small apartment. We don’t have cable, barely have cheap pay-as-you-go cell phones. We don’t even own our car (though we will in about four years). We’ve trimmed all the fat we can trim. We’re just trying desperately to stay above zero. And we still don’t have a kid and don’t know if (or how) we ever will.

It’s so fucking unfair.

ONE: Time Passing

This is really the hardest one. We’re getting older. Our nieces and nephews (our kids’ cousins) are getting older. Our friend’s kids are getting older. My parents are getting older. (My husband’s parents have already passed away.) Our grandparents are dying one by one before they’ll ever get to spend good time (or time at all) with our kids.

Meanwhile life and people and families pass us by and lap us, sometimes more than once. We can’t even get off the ground.

Sometimes I hyperventilate when I think I’ll be 60 when our kids are in college. And what about our grandkids? Will we even meet them, much less have good time with them? I guess we’ll have to raise our kids as fundamentalist Christians and teach them “abstinence only” so they’ll have kids early… (KIDDING!)

We just can’t plan our life year-to-year because we don’t know when or if we’ll have kids or how much more we’ll have to spend just to get the first one going. God only knows about trying for a sibling — how long it will take or how much it will cost. If we have twins next year, we may be done. Late and broke, but I can live with it. (Not like I have a choice.)

But if we have a single child, I’ll be 39 when we’re trying for our second kid, 40 when I deliver. BEST CASE SCENARIO.

Not what I planned at all.

It’s so fucking unfair.

I really thought I had played it perfectly. I’d lived a lot of life by the time I got married at age 33, and I was still plenty young enough to have two kids and get all my trying-to-conceive over with at the relatively safe age of 35. I was so ready for it in every way. And yet…

It’s like you’re all set and ready to put on a play. You’ve got the props (toys and clothes you saved from your own childhood), you’ve got the audience (friends and family just waiting for your announcement), and even co-stars (ALL of your friends seem to be having babies at the exact same time!!). The music is playing, the house is sold out…

Yet the star of the show remains elusive, hidden behind some cosmic curtain. Even if you get word that he or she is finally on the way, just nine months out, you know he/she can cancel at any point along the way.

It’s an exhausting way to live.

Sorry if this is kind of a downer. I like to unpack things like this so it’s not just a swirling shitstorm in my mind. One by one like this, I can kind of get a handle on the thing.

And I am doing pretty well overall these days. But that doesn’t erase the fact that this is really hard. A uniquely difficult human experience.

How about you? Anything else you’d add to the list?

P.S. Just realized I forgot one: Spending YEARS feeling like your body is not your own. It’s just a means to an end, something you have to coddle with all the right supplements and a healthy diet — no sugar, no alcohol, no dairy, no coffee, blah blah blah — and not too much exercise but not too little, and…

You feel like a hostage to this thing that stubbornly refuses to exist despite your best efforts. And during those endless Two Week Waits (especially the ones that cost thousands of dollars), you feel like you’re made of glass…

That’s exhausting, too.

At least every time you fail, you get to go on a little wine and cookie bender…

I’m not Scared Anymore

This may be a passing feeling, so I’ll grab it while I can. Walking today along the river, a resplendent baby blue, fluffy white, and cotton candy pink sunset splashed across the big sky to my left, I thought about the fear I’d had that my first book wouldn’t be a success, that it wouldn’t lead to an obvious next step, that it wouldn’t cement my status as a Real Successful Adult Worth Taking Seriously. That it would come out, make a splash of one size or another, and then fizzle, leaving me with no clue what to do next.

Well, by some measures, it was a success. It got published by a real publishing house. It got great reviews. It was named a Top Travel Book of Spring by National Geographic and a Top Travel Book of the Year by Publishers Weekly. I did book tours in more than twenty states (dozens of venues, including a handful of Barnes & Nobles) and half a dozen foreign countries. It was published in Turkish and was featured prominently in several Turkish newspapers. I even made an appearance on live Turkish national TV with a host who was sweating through his make-up because he knew his English was totally garbled. (Luckily he went over the questions with me beforehand. And of course, his English was better than my Turkish.) And I still get really nice fan letters from readers.

But did it make me any money? Other than the $15k advance, not really. My book tours mostly broke even or produced so little income vis-a-vis the incredible efforts that went into them, I would have been better off working at McDonalds. I haven’t earned out the advance yet, which means no more money from the publisher until I do. And those royalties will be only about a dollar a book (industry standard).

Did it become a major nationwide bestseller? Were the film rights purchased by a major studio? Did it catapult me into a more lucrative book deal and on to a sterling career? Naw. I killed myself for years trying to get that celebrity endorsement that would take it to the next level. I slogged through snow on my 34th birthday to get my book into Jon Stewart’s hands.

Nothing ever came of it. It sold respectably while I was actively touring, then it fell into the normal obscurity most books fall into that aren’t breakout bestsellers. Neither Oprah nor the New York Times waved their magic wand (as they do with so many mediocre books that go on to sell millions).

The worst part? The book (Fast Times in Palestine) is about a part of the world Americans are desperately undereducated about, one where our policies have a direct and horrific impact. American voters / taxpayers need to know this stuff so that millions of people — some of them dear friends — can stop being oppressed because of ignorance and political expediency. I felt like I had failed them all.

For a long time it bothered me almost to the point of depression. I felt paralyzed, unsure what to do next. I started writing another book, a novel this time, and I’m almost done with it. But it’s been a hard slog, dogged by feelings of, “What’s the point?”

The new book, actually, is about this very subject. What happens when you follow your heart, pursue your passion, do your best to change the world, only to find yourself a broke, middle-aged nobody? What then?

Through writing the novel, I dealt with my own issues, my own disappointment. Obviously this is a first world problem. But it can be a very real one, a very human one. We’re surrounded in this culture by entreaties to “Follow your heart!” mixed with messages that if you’re not a success, you’re a failure. (Especially in the achievement-oriented places where I was educated.)

The overall message seemed to be, “Follow your heart to success!” And if you’re not wildly successful, maybe you were stupid to follow your heart, or maybe you did it wrong, making you a double failure.

What you have to realize is that, at its essence, following your heart is not about “success” in the way our culture defines it. That kind of “success” is extremely fickle, and let’s face it — these days it mostly goes to people who don’t deserve it.

Real success is something more subtle and internally defined. (It’s not something I can adequately summarize here. I needed to write a whole book to get at it.)

You also have to really learn, really take to heart the fact that you can only do so much. Your work ethic, your integrity — these are things you have control over. How it’s received by a public apparently obsessed with the Kardashians? That’s not up to you.

So yeah — through writing a second book, I worked through my hang-ups around the first book. And that’s a kind of success, no? I’ve learned to accept that I’m not a nobody just because I’m not a “somebody” with a big studio deal and a five-figure advance on my next book, or whatever would qualify me as worthy of a magazine profile. I’ve learned to remember that “success” can be a double-edged sword. It comes with risks and constraints: hangers-on, expectations, obligations, and a very real danger of becoming entirely too full of yourself, not to mention various degrees of loss of creative control. (One publisher who rejected my book advised me to make it more angry, divisive, polemical. She said that kind of stuff really sells. I side-eyed her email and never responded. And don’t get me started on how my actual publisher set up my Amazon page and refused to change it. Who knows how many sales that killed?)

My life wouldn’t fundamentally change anyway (other than having an easier time with all these damn medical bills). I might have a bigger house, a nicer car, but that’s the kind of stuff you take for granted in no time. The really good stuff is here already. The sunset by the river is free. So was my silly cat. And I managed to travel the world many times over without ever breaking five figures in my net worth.

As far as the bigger issue — changing history, changing the world — tens of thousands of books have been written that are wiser than mine, more beautiful than mine, more trenchant than mine. Vanishingly few of them make a significant mark on history on their own. (In fact, none of them do on their own — they are all inserted into a particular society, a particular time period, a particular historical milieu composed of billions of interacting factors that determine whether a book soars or just chugs along.) But all the books together make up the vast human library, and it’s an honor to be a part of it.

And while it’s incredibly painful not to see my book measurably changing public opinion it is finding many readers — probably a lot more than the sales numbers show since it’s in libraries, passed to friends and family by readers, and available second-hand on Amazon and other venues. And there’s always a chance the right person will find it at the right time to really make a difference.

In short, I’ve done just about all I can do. The rest is not up to me.

Meanwhile — sigh — I’ve started another project that I haven’t yet found “success” with: starting my family. And that has been even more painful, even more difficult to work through. A big part of what’s tough is feeling like people see me differently. I’m one of “those” people, those unfortunates, those people you kind of avoid when you have your own exciting baby news, those people “going through something I just can’t imagine!”, those people going broke while their life is stuck in stasis as the world moves on around them. Those people who withdraw into themselves every time there’s bad news — and that’s a lot.

I don’t want to be that person. But I am.

I’m always on pins and needles, always stuck on a high wire with no end in sight, always impatient for the next cycle, always waiting, waiting, waiting for the next phase of my life to start.

But after the last miscarriage, after the grief passed through me, I started to realize I don’t actually have to live like that. I can enjoy the wonderful blessings of today and let the next cycle, the future, do whatever it’s going to do. It doesn’t mean I’m giving up. It just means I’m acknowledging there’s only so much I control and learning to live better and more honestly with that fact of life.

It’s a lot like writing a book. There’s only so much you can do, so much effort you can put in. Then you have to let go and let the rest take care of itself. Our next cycle may work or it may not. It’s thrilling to think it might, and I’ll survive if it doesn’t. And people can think whatever they want to think about it. That’s not up to me, either.

Meanwhile I’ll keep putting one foot in front of the other, keep playing soccer and reading and writing and editing novels and going for sunset walks and cooking good food and playing with my nephews and taking ballet classes and enjoying being so free and independent.

It’s not what I would choose if I had a choice, but it’s not bad.

This is as much peace as I’ve felt throughout this whole process.

And that’s a kind of success, too.

.
P.S. I recently read something about Catastrophic Thinking, which means that whatever happens, if it’s not completely ideal, you immediately jump to the worst case scenario and tense yourself up against it. I realized this is something I do. Which makes sense in a way, because it’s been pretty much nothing but worst case scenarios so far. (Well, I take that back — things could have always been much, much worse. But there’s certainly been no happy news that lasted in the past four years.)

I’m entitled to keep doing this, of course, but it doesn’t actually help. Being tensed up against bad news doesn’t make bad news any less bad when you get it. And meanwhile you spent a lot of time that could have been good tensed up for no benefit. And if the news finally ends up being good? You really wasted all that tension.

It was helpful seeing that propensity of mine written down in black and white as a “diagnosis” of sorts — something pretty normal, but not helpful. It has made it easier for me to recognize this behavior and get it in check before it spirals out of control.