Chapter One

Here is a link to the first chapter of my novel, which is rapidly nearing completion.

Spoiler alert: it starts with a coral reef and ends with vomiting…

Chapters 2 and 3 are also available to anyone who wants to read them. Just comment or email me at pamolson at gmail dot com.

Thoughts and feedback are always appreciated. 🙂

The full novel should be ready for beta readers in about six weeks.

Beta down to 14

My beta is down to 14 after it was 500 two weeks ago. A good drop, but not good enough to start the matching process for next time until it hits 2. Until then they won’t even tell me if they’ll need another saline ultrasound or not. If they make me do it, it’ll mean an extra round-trip plane ticket plus $350. I wish I had some idea so I could prepare.

But, of course, in the unlikely event my beta does something bizarre, it could change the game plan, and they keep costs down by waiting to make a game plan until all the relevant info is in. I suppose it’s smart, but it drives control freaks like me a bit nuts sometimes. I want contingencies. Percentages. I want to know every possible branching path all the way to the end and the likelihood of each at every branch point.

Right. Haven’t I learned anything by now?

So, testing again in another week. More waiting in the dark. One woman said it took two weeks for hers just to go from 12 down to 5. I hope mine isn’t that stubborn. But exponential decay can be agonizingly slow at the tail end. (I miss doing math sometimes.)

Actually, I just looked up average decay rates in a PubMed study, and it seems beta-hCG has a half-life of around 4 days at this point, which means I should be at 2 around next Monday (though the half-life seems to get longer as time goes on — not quite a clean exponential curve). Maybe I should delay my test until then.

At least each of these tests “only” cost $26. But it kind of hurts spending money on “pregnancy” tests that only show how not-pregnant I am. And they add up, especially on top of everything else.

Plus my back has been a mess lately. I tweaked my neck doing a shoulder stand at a two-for-one treat-myself-on-Valentine’s-Day yoga class. I put off going to the chiropractor for a week because my insurance doesn’t cover it as well as it used to, and by then it was really painful.

He popped everything back into place, but then two days later I felt another part lower down go out of whack when I was doing morning push-ups. Probably because the other parts of my back were still inflamed and just not quite doing what they were supposed to. And this tweak was even more painful than the last one. Dammit, I should have just taken it easy for a while, but I so wanted to “make hay while the sun shone” and get in good shape before my next embryo transfer. It was the one thing I had some control over.

So I had to go to the chiropractor again, and now my whole back feels poised on the edge of going out, and I feel infuriatingly fragile. I won’t be able to go to ballet class or play soccer this weekend.

Ah, well. At least I’ve been getting great work done on my novel, and on the thriller novel I’m editing for pay.

There art thou happy.

EDIT: My husband massaged me with muscle rub, and I’m feeling much better the next day. Yay.

I Miss my Bionic Nose

Now I have to go physically check to see if there’s poo in the cat’s litter box. I used to be able to smell it as it was exiting his bum. And I had a semi-good excuse to holler at my husband to take care of it. 😉

My boobs are still sore, though. What’s up with that?

I detected an LH surge this morning, on day 17 after the loss. Not a bad delay, if the cycle goes smoothly from here. There’s still hope for an April transfer if my beta goes down soon, if I get a match quick, and if they can schedule me in despite the entire clinic moving office in April (to Sacramento, which is much handier for out-of-town patients). A lot of ifs.

(And if it did work, we’d end up with a Christmas-ish baby, and I’ve always hated my January birthday, so… Sorry, kid(s), if that ends up being the case.)

In other news, I had two ballet classes left on my punch card when it was time to transfer my embryos, and I gave up the classes for lost because my super-careful ass didn’t want to blame myself if I had a miscarriage.

Well, I had a miscarriage anyway, and then I finally went back to ballet class. Lo and behold there was a new student in the class who looked about twelve who was making jokes about her cute little baby bump and how she’s doing “baby ballet” and stuff.

Ugh. I know nobody means to rub it in our faces but… ugh.

Just kinda rolled my eyes and sighed and got on with it. But… yeah. You can’t really tell more fortunate people to shut the hell up about it. I’m happy for them, honestly.

But… yeah.

Of course, if my “journey” had been a few nights of hot lovin’ instead of four years of hell (and counting), I might have been like that, too.

A part of me is just a little bit glad I’ll never be that insufferably smug. 😛

We played some good soccer this weekend as well, though if I run too much I start feeling like our asthmatic cat. It takes a lot for me to get in decent cardiovascular shape, and just a few months to lose it. Any tips are always appreciated.

I’m working on my own novel and editing another guy’s novel to help pay all these bills. His novel is a fun one, a thriller about a female president dealing with Israel going to war with Iran. Right in my wheelhouse. It’s the first time I’ve professionally edited a novel (so far I’ve mostly done memoirs, dissertations, and ad copy), but I feel really comfortable, like I’m doing something I’m meant to do. It’s not easy to keep hundreds of pages in your head at once, to see that big picture and know what needs to be done, and I don’t know where I got that particular talent, but it’s good to feel mastery in what you do. Especially when you feel like such a blundering failure in another important area of your life. Hoping to parlay it into more steady work one of these years.

I’ve been holding off on getting any kind of 9-5 for four damn years thinking I’d be pregnant any time (and also having to travel frequently for treatment), which has frustratingly added to our financial stress. I’ve also been working on my novel but — real talk — probably spending even more time obsessively researching everything about our medical issue to the point where I could write a dissertation on it by now. My God it’s a vast subject, and what we don’t know is even vaster than what we do. And all the research clearly hasn’t helped us. Sometimes I wonder if we’d be pregnant by now if I’d just let it all go and blindly listened to the doctors. But I don’t seem to work like that. (Of course, my research led us to CC, so maybe it’s not all bad.)

My husband is also doing great at his new job, earning high praise, and in a few years he’ll no doubt have his pick of places to work in web development. He’s self-taught as well (and making a heck of a lot more money than I am), and I’m really proud of him.

All in all our financial situation isn’t as dire as I had feared (though not nearly as good as it could / should be), and of course there will be yet more bills for our next cycle. And for giving birth if we’re lucky enough to do that. (In the unlikely event we give birth this year, we have a manageable out-of-pocket max via the ACA. Next year? Who knows? Maybe I’ll just give birth in the bath tub…)

But just trying to take it a day at a time. Hopefully this is our tough year and things will look up from here.

Striving for my Chill

A contradiction? Maybe. But if it was easy to be relaxed on this world full of so many shocks and losses, we’d all do it, wouldn’t we?

My best friend recently lost her dad. Out of nowhere, totally unexpectedly. He could have, should have had twenty more good years at least. In fact, his mama had died just a few months earlier. His granddaughters were at a really cute age, and he was crazy about them, and the feeling was mutual. He was one of the coolest grown-ups I knew as a kid. A liberal in a sea of conservatives who was nonetheless loved by everyone, a professional carpenter and amateur fireworks enthusiast, and he showed me Jupiter and its four tiny pinprick moons through his backyard telescope.

It wasn’t common to find something like that in my tiny Oklahoma home town. He helped my best friend become the awesome person she is, and she helped shape me in so many ways. I don’t know if I would have survived my childhood without her.

The loss was absolutely gutting.

And then this week my step-dad’s mom passed away. She was so crazy about her great-grandsons, my brother’s boys, and it’s so sad to me that she’ll never know my kids, if I ever have them.

I was texting with my best friend today about how brave it is to love anyone, knowing what might — in fact, what eventually will — happen. It’s part of the reason I was so terrified of getting married. How could I possibly entwine my life so deeply with someone, knowing one of us might bail at any moment through no fault of our own, leaving the other without us to help them get through it? There’s no good time for that to happen, whether you’ve been married four year, forty years, or sixty-five.

But of course, what’s the alternative? “I am a rock. I am an island.” No. That’s just pre-emptively giving up. That’s robbing people of your love so they’ll never lose it, and robbing yourself of it so you’ll never lose it. Objectively, that is a net loss. The eventual loss hurts, but it doesn’t negate what was good. My best friend’s dad’s grandkids don’t have their grandpa anymore, but they have their own beautiful little lives enriched in so many ways through him directly when he was here and through the many people influenced by him.

Of course, he should still be here. And it hurts to feel that this gift has been withheld, even as the reason it hurts so much is because the original gift was such a good one.

As Khalil Gibran wrote:

When you are sorrowful look again in your heart,
and you shall see that in truth you are weeping
for that which has been your delight.

It’s the most basic truth, isn’t it? We wouldn’t be sad if the person we lost didn’t mean so much to us. There’s be no loss if there hadn’t been such an extraordinary gift in the first place.

Everything — everything — is fundamentally a gift. None of it is owed to us.

I wrote a somewhat more cynical poem in my effusively exploratory twenties:

I don’t believe in hate.
I don’t believe in hell.
There’s only love,
And fear of loss,
And that works just as well.

This is also true, I think. Where does hate come from? Usually from a fear of loss of loved ones, loss of freedom, loss of ego… And what is hell but living a life full of hatred?

The message is to try to get away from those fears. To understand that everything is only temporary and live as well as you can with that. Because turning your love into fear and your fear into hate only tarnishes what could otherwise have been some incredible gifts.

So how do I think about all this in terms of fertility struggles? After all, there is no gift in this case, I mean not fundamentally. This is fundamentally about something not happening that you want to happen. It’s about the non-existence of people you believe should exist. There’s no ritual to mark their passing because they never existed in the first place. The upsides are things like lessons and perspective which, while valuable, can’t really compare to cuddles with your own child. And you find yourself going through the stages of grief over and over and over again instead of just once.

I’m not trying to compare different kinds of hardships as better or worse, but just musing out loud about how they are similar and different. I’m still not sure how to mourn people who never (or barely) were. Still working through how to relax when every sinew of my body is stretched under the strain of striving for one goal (which is so mundanely easy for most to achieve).

As I’ve said, I’ve been reasonably proud of myself in the past few years for living reasonably well despite it all. But I never imagined this dragging out for almost four years (so far). It’s kind of breathtaking when I think about it too much. Others have certainly had it worse, and to them I can only tip my hat in silent respect. But this is pretty high up on the curve of how bad it can get. If I had had any idea four years ago that this would be my life right now, I don’t know how I could have handled it.

But here I am. And whether it’s two, four, six, or ten years in this particular limbo, and whatever loss or never-got you’re dealing with, the lessons are the same if you can learn them.

The universe is absolutely overloaded with blessings — gifts. But we humans don’t always have a ton of control over how and when and for how long we get them. We should be grateful for any good thing that comes our way and patiently accepting of whatever does not come our way or departs from us. Because it was a gift in the first place. It’s not like we can expect anything. We are not entitled to any of these gifts. When they come, it’s pure generosity. Pure gravy.

Even the fact that humans can have kids, and love kids, and receive love and laughter and cuddles from kids — I mean, this wonderful arrangement didn’t have to be the case. The fact that I have even a hope of it is a miracle.

Heh. But then you see everyone around you getting this miracle without a second thought and it’s hard not to feel like you’re in middle school again, and everyone else got picked but you. It’s hard not to see this thing so achingly close, so achingly natural, so deeply wanted, and be frustrated over and over and over again. There has never been a shadow of a doubt in my mind that I want to be a mother. My husband feels the same.

Yet here we are.

We will be parents. One way or another, it will happen. This, too, shall pass. But it’s so much harder than I could have imagined. Having children is simply one of the most consequential and life-changing events there is. And the universe withholding that one — it’s bitter.

It’s also (sigh) a chance to learn as deeply as you will ever learn that the universe doesn’t owe you anything. And that doesn’t mean the universe is bad. It just means things are set up in a way that not everyone gets everything they want all the time. If they did it would just be paradise, and apparently the universe wanted to make things a little more interesting on this spinning space rock.

All in all, other than this bitter pill, I do have a charmed and beautiful life. It’s funny how having one thing denied to you can make everything else seem pale and hollow. And it’s easy to say that’s childish (probably because it is). But at the same time, you can’t exactly compare being a parent to getting that Nintendo you wanted as a kid. Right?

So here I am clawing my way out of another mild depressing tinged with frenzied denial to peek up into the sun and keep walking along as best I can, a bit bored of this treacherous landscape and hoping there aren’t too many of this particular kind of trap up ahead and occasionally envisioning what victory and that next landscape might be like, all the while knowing every victory is temporary and can be undone at any moment.

This life, man. It is beautiful. But it is not for the faint of heart.

Hard Luck

Last time I had a miscarriage, and everyone kinda knew about it because I was posting my blog on Facebook, it was hard and awkward every time I saw someone and they would say they were sorry for our loss and bring it all back up again. I appreciate the sympathy, but I didn’t want to think about it right before a soccer game, or whatever.

So this time I’ve kept it very close to the chest. Only a few close friends and family members know. And that’s hard in its own way. Because when a friend is complaining about her kids being rowdy or something, or lamenting how she has to take pills because she’s so fertile and she doesn’t like the side effects, she has no idea how insensitive she is being. I would kill to have that “problem.”

Of course, she’s not even really being insensitive. People are allowed to be driven crazy by their kids. With any luck I’ll be one of them some day, and sometimes I may want to vent with the best of them. (I like to think I’ll have enough perspective to never take my kids for granted for a moment, but humans have a tremendous tendency to lose perspective again as soon as a given nightmare is over.) And being too fertile when you don’t want kids can cause genuine problems.

And I have to be sensitive to that. And I have to be sensitive to the fact that when I’m not being open about my struggles, people can’t read my mind and thus can’t be blamed when they poke at loose scabs covering years worth of unspeakable pain, a black hole of aching nothingness that goes on and on and on without any resolution, without sweet memories of a child to offset the bitter, without even a grave to visit.

All we have are dates. The day in May when my first miscarried baby would have been due. September of this year, when our second miscarried baby would have been due. Any time someone even mentions September lately, it feels like a slap in the face. And I know very well that that’s crazy.

I do find joy, of course. There’s a dark cloud over our lives, but sometimes it’s hazy enough to let the light shine through. But it is monotonous and relentless, like an Oregon winter that goes on for four years. And just when we thought it was almost spring, the winter closed in yet again with no end in sight.

I’m just so tired lately. All my coping strategies have worn thin. I feel like a whipped dog, and I feel weak for feeling that way. I know I should have perspective — things could be plenty worse, and are worse for many good people. But I seem to be utterly failing lately.

I also know that reaching too hard for an outcome, a goal, is the origin of a lot of human pain. It’s about the journey, not the destination, and all that. But this journey sucks! And how can I pretend it doesn’t? How can I pretend I’m not constantly mourning people in my life who don’t even exist?

Until this last loss, I could find ways to keep my chin up, to feel that better times were just around the corner. Right now I have no faith, no perspective. I guess this soon after a loss, I shouldn’t be so hard on myself for feeling that way.

But even the thought of trying again makes me feel like a whipped dog who thinks, “Maybe this time my master will be nice to me. Maybe this time he won’t beat me.”

I hate feeling like that. I hate feeling so powerless and abused, especially when there’s no one to blame, no one to take to court, no one to retaliate against. The universe tosses good and bad luck around with little regard for who deserves it. This shouldn’t have been how we had to spend our first four years of marriage, infused with this brutally expensive depressing emptiness. But it was.

I’ll pull out of this funk eventually, but I’m so tired of having to pull my ass out of funks. At some point, it’s just enough, you know? Enough.

But you don’t get to say when enough is enough. You have very little say at all.

Hurry Up and Wait

UPDATE: Skip this one if you want, I’m just grasping at straws, in denial and sick of having no control over anything, my body, my plans, my finances, any damn thing. I’ll do as the doctors say and let another due date (would have been September 23, such a nice time of year) crumble into the wind and just… wait. And hope. Same damn thing I’ve been doing for four years. So sick of “holding my chin up.” So sick of all of this. I thought we were seven and a half months from a baby. I thought we were going to be able to escape going into debt by the skin of our teeth. Now it’s all up in the air again. And it just sucks. Trying to put on my “big girl pants” and deal with it, but not doing a great job at the moment. Blah.

They want me to wait for my next period to start birth control pills and start this whole process over again. I asked why we needed to wait instead of just start BCPs now, and they gave no satisfactory answers. They said it was to make sure “something else wasn’t going on,” like I wasn’t going into menopause or something.

Um… I’m 37. And even if I were going into menopause, what does it matter? I’m on drugs / simulated cycles anyway.

They said it was also to make sure all the products of conception were expelled, but doesn’t the lowering hCG show that? (Actually, I looked it up. Sometimes things can be retained even though hCG is zero, though it’s rarer with a natural miscarriage. But I don’t see what that has to do with taking BCPs or not?)

I’m just frustrated. Champing at the bit. If my next period is EXACTLY on time, and I get a match more or less as soon as I’m back on the list, then there’s still hope of having a baby or two in 2017 (when I know I’ll still have decent insurance).

But if my cycle is delayed OR matching is delayed, then… not so much.

And I wonder if there’s really a good reason to keep me in limbo like this, or if it’s just a cookie-cutter approach. Maybe they just want me to wait a few weeks, and this is as good a way to say “a few weeks” as any.

I’m contemplating going on BCPs on the sly and just telling them in four weeks that my period has started. I just don’t see the point in waiting for my ovaries to kick-start themselves again, only to shut them down again when we start the next cycle (with BCPs, Lupron, and estrogen).

On the other hand, it does seem like it would be nice to have a month “off” from drugs and just let my poor body be. Maybe it does need time to calm down and regulate itself.

But can’t it more or less do that while I’m on BCPs? And it’ll take the stress off my natural hormonal system, which otherwise will probably spazz out with the sudden terrible freedom, and God knows what it might get up to. What’s the point of waiting six weeks or more for a period?

I was always someone who, as a kid, needed to know why the rules were in place. “Because I said so” was never good enough for me then, and it’s not very satisfactory now, either. Doctors can be wrong. (Believe me.) Or just take lazy, generic approaches when a more individualized one might be better.

So I would like to just trust them. But I don’t seem to work that way.

So I’m not sure what to do. The thought of just waiting it out is pretty exhausting. I really wish I knew if there was a *good* reason to do it, because so far they haven’t given me one.

And just in general, the idea of growing a human in my belly and getting a baby at the end is starting to seem like some kind of bizarre science fiction, not a real thing that really happens. I’m so psyched out by now there are moments when I’m not sure I believe in it. Maybe it’s some elaborate practical joke, something people invented to make me feel bad about myself for not being able to do it.

I feel like I’ve been stuck in this limbo forever, this dark hole, and every time I seem to be close to clawing my way out…

It feels, again, like I’m all the way back at zero. I know I’m not. I have five more tries, right? But how do I know any of those are going to work? How can I keep doing this? How can I hurt my husband with bad news even one more time?

And how can I just sit around for 4-8 weeks with my thumb up my butt waiting to see what my somnambulant reproductive system decides to do when suddenly jarred awake by a withdrawal of drugs?

I’d run a marathon to get to this goal, I’d fight horses, I’d dig holes with my bare fingernails. And all I can do is sit around and hope my ovaries yawn and stretch and spit one out in a timely fashion — one we are not going to use anyway?

If BCPs can spare me from that, why not?

I wish I knew.

EDIT: Sorry for all the spinning out lately. It’s good for me to vent this stuff, put it out in the universe to get it out of my head. They say sunlight is the best disinfectant. Thanks for bearing with it all. Hopefully next time (always next time…) it’ll finally not be hopelessly sad.

I’ll probably just stay off drugs for the next month (or so) (other than alcohol, that is) and hope my body kicks in like it’s supposed to and try not to get lost in doom and gloom worst-case-scenarios (though things have gone so consistently wrong for so long, it’s really hard not to).

Doing Pretty Good

We grieved hard for a couple of days, let it pass through us, and we’re excited and optimistic about our next try. I’m glad to be able to play soccer again, finish my last two ballet classes that I’ve already paid for, and otherwise stop being such an overly-cautious, sedentary lazy butt. (It’s been too cold for our sunset walks by the river, and I feel weird just marching in place in the apartment.)

It’s also nice to have wine with dinner, and it feels so awesome not to be on progesterone anymore. I feel five years younger. (It’ll be so worth it if it works at some point. But for now it’s a silver lining to be off that crap.)

And if there’s one thing I’m (apparently) good at, it’s my uterus taking care of business when things aren’t going right. Both miscarriages have been remarkably quick and relatively painless. Not something I ever wanted to put on my resume, but at least something is doing what it should. Hopefully if I ever get a good-quality embryo in there, it’ll be awesome at actually growing a baby as well.

I bought some pregnancy tests to make sure my hCG levels are going down appropriately. (A bit of a mindf**k to suddenly be hoping for negative pregnancy tests.) If it stays elevated it could mean there’s still some stuff up in there, or even an undetected ectopic somewhere. Unlikely, but this is an easy way to check and put the mind at ease.

I’ll ask tomorrow what the next steps are if I want to try again as quickly and safely as possible. Any advice or stories will be appreciated. How quickly did you do another transfer after a miscarriage, if that’s been a part of your experience?

Thanks!

EDIT: It was harder than I thought getting that beautiful dark positive pregnancy test of my dreams only to know it’s an illusion and hope it disappears soon. There should be some of these just called “hCG tests,” not “pregnancy tests.” Ah well.