Thursday, March 23, 2017

A Surprise Call from the Fertility Doctor

Most days, I do okay. But some days I'm just over this infertility thing. For a few months now, we have shared our ups and downs and it wasn’t until recently that I ran out of words. Two weeks ago, we received a phone call and then a letter confirming that our insurance provider would not pay for In Vitro Fertilization (IVF). I took the news, swallowed it, and let it break my heart. I get that we were put on this earth to grow and all, but lately my prayers have been a little like: Thanks but no thanks, Heavenly Father. I think I’m good on the growing thing.

Today He responded, Nope, and sent another bump in the road.

I was sitting at work when my cell phone started vibrating and my caller ID read, Reproductive Care Center. It’s been a few weeks since we talked with our fertility clinic; I just assumed that because our plan fell through, there was nothing else to follow-up on. Curious, I answered the phone and expected to hear the voice of a nurse or receptionist. Instead, I spoke with our fertility doctor.

He apologized for the outcome of the insurance request and told me that it had honestly surprised him. He was calling to let me know that he had written a letter of appeal and had heard back from our provider—their response was positive! He said that they are willing to approve the procedure if we can provide some compelling documentation. Our next step is for Jk to meet with a urologist (male fertility doctor) and to basically get a doctor’s note saying that neither medicine nor surgery will solve the problem. Out of the blue, IVF is back on the table!

I just want to take a minute to say that I was so impressed that our doctor had taken the time to call me. That’s just the kind of guy he is. He even gave me his personal phone number! Even if all of this doesn’t work out, I will forever be grateful for the compassion and care we have received from this doctor.

So here we are again, back on the cusp of everything or nothing. This journey hasn’t been smooth and it definitely hasn’t been easy. But I can promise you that every single time I am ready to give up, the Lord has shown me mercy. Just when I think every ounce of my faith is used up, He sends me hope. Over and over, I am learning to trust that He will guide me in this journey that at times can be terribly difficult and dark.

“Assurance and hope make it possible for us to walk to the edge of the light and take a few steps into the darkness—expecting and trusting the light to move and illuminate the way.” - Elder David A. Bednar

Friday, March 10, 2017

Feeling Awkward About Infertility

Recently I was asked the question, "How can infertility feel embarrassing?" Surprisingly, I didn’t know how to answer; I couldn’t put my finger on it. It was just a few months ago that I was keeping such a significant part of my life secret. Like many couples suffering with infertility, I thought that my husband and I would keep it to ourselves until we had “success” with pregnancy. But now, after being so open about our infertility journey, I'm thinking more about that question. How can infertility feel embarrassing, awkward, or totally taboo? Here’s what I came up with.

One: This doesn’t feel like my story. 
I remember the first conversation Jk and I ever had about children. It was summer, bright and hot outside; we sat on the street underneath a shady tree while we sipped slurpees. We were dating and I was hungry to know every detail about his beautiful soul. We curiously asked each other questions for hours, back and forth. Hesitant and wide-eyed, Jk asked me how many children I wanted. We hadn’t talked about love or marriage so the question hung heavy between us. Children. Each of us might have children some day. Maybe even together.

That memory feels fragile and sacred to me now. As I talked with my blue-tongued boyfriend that day, I had no inclination that we would ever suffer from infertility. Babies felt far off, but certainly not unattainable. I guess that’s why I say that this doesn’t feel like my story. Fertility appointments, blog posts, and IVF needles never crossed my mind. And as silly as it sounds, I’ve found myself feeling embarrassed that it’s not as easy as I thought it would be.

Over time, I’ve come to accept infertility as just another part of my life. Every person deals with unique challenges and this is mine. I can’t wish it away and I can’t pretend it doesn’t exist. But I can make the best of it. I can share my ups-and-downs and I can soak up every last drop of this good life that God has given me.
Two: Infertility can put me in an awkward place with other women, especially mothers. 
I have so many girl friends who I love and adore, but I’ll be honest...Infertility can feel isolating. For women who have never experienced infertility, I understand that it can feel impossible to find the right words to comfort a friend. For those who are expecting or who are already mothers, maybe you feel guilty that it has worked out for you and not someone you love. Infertility can feel like an awkward barrier sometimes.

I recently had a really good friend tell me that she and her husband are trying to get pregnant. I didn’t feel awkward or envious. In every corner of my heart, I genuinely wished her success and happiness! Speaking from the perspective of someone suffering with infertility, I’ll admit that I’ve felt the jealous knee-jerk reaction at seeing a pregnancy announcement. But just because I want a baby doesn’t mean that I don’t want anyone else to have one. You do you.

What I hope above all else is that women in every stage of life can find a way to strengthen and uplift each other. If you feel awkward about infertility, find another way to connect. Please please do not use isolation or avoidance to cope with differences. Surely we can find a way to love and appreciate one another.

Three: People just get weird when you talk about sex. 
I asked my husband why he thought infertility could be an awkward or taboo topic and that’s what he said… “People just get weird when you talk about sex.” Well, there you go! Most (normal) couples don’t go around talking about their reproductive health. I’ll be the first to admit that opening up about birth control, sperm count, and balloons in your belly can be totally awkward! (Especially when your mom, bishop, and brother are following your blog. Hi guys!)

What I’m trying to say is that infertility seems taboo because fertility is taboo. For many, conceiving a child is sensitive and private. These are the same individuals who believe that not conceiving a child should be just as private. To each his own.

Despite how you feel about privacy, modesty, and babies, I have found that for my husband and I, talking about our infertility journey has been the best thing ever. I’ve said it before and I’ll repeat it now, this kind of openness isn’t for everybody. We’ve found that for us, it’s the easiest way to tell our friends and family what we are going through. I’ve been able to access more information and connect with more women than ever before. I have awkward questions, but it is such a blessing to get answers from friends who have been through what I’m going through!

So yesinfertility can be uncomfortable and embarrassing, but so can a lot of other things! If I had waited until we had “success” to tell our story, I would still be silent today. I would spend months waiting and worrying alone. But instead, I have friends supporting me, strangers sharing their stories with me, and a whole community encouraging me to stay strong. Awkward or not, I’m embracing this infertility journey that is ours. 

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Afterword:

Every man, woman, or couple experiences infertility differently. Wanting to acknowledge the unique challenges that others face, I asked the members of an online IVF-Support Group, How can infertility FEEL embarrassing? Their answers were inspiring, heartbreaking, and gave me all the feels. Here is a look at what just a few of them said:

I don’t feel accepted in my religion or culture. 
- “We're Catholic and our religion is against it so we don't tell many people because I don't want to deal with the comments.”
- “It's embarrassing because in most South African or African Cultures and societies a woman is always the one to blame for infertility within a marriage and you get called hurtful names.”

I don’t want advice, questions, or feedback from others.
- “People just are not educated about infertility. They make ignorant statements not to be cruel, but because they don’t understand.”
- “Get on board and be supportive or move along.”

Infertility makes my husband feel like less of a man/makes me feel like less of a woman. 
- “A majority of the time I’m fine about it, open and frank with people. But, if I’m being honest, deep down I feel like less of a woman. Like a defective woman. I don’t talk about it with anyone. No one says or does anything to make me feel this way, but...there it is.”
- “I was embarrassed because I felt like I had failed as a woman and a wife and that I was letting people down because of it.”
- “I think infertility has made me feel like less of a woman, like I can’t just do the one big thing a woman is designed to do.”

I’m not embarrassed anymore. 
- “I'm much more open about it now. I didn't want this, but this is my life, so why should I have to hide that when it's such a big part of my life?”

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

In Vitro Fertilization and Insurance

About a week ago, I messaged an infertility blogger and asked for her thoughts on IVF (In Vitro Fertilization). Jk and I had just gotten back from our doctor’s appointment where our doctor suggested that we try IVF before our move to Arizona in 6 months. I fell hard and fast for the idea of being pregnant by June. But even after hearing an overview of how the process would go, I had a lot of questions. I turned to the author of one of the very first infertility blogs that I followed.

I expressed my reservations about IVF as well as my confidence in our insurance provider. My exact words to her were, “We have [this insurance], which is supposedly the best insurance provider for infertility treatments. Not too worried about the cost.” As it turns out, she had experience using the same insurance provider and had some great insight to give.
I learned that she was denied IVF coverage because she and her husband hadn’t been trying to get pregnant for a certain amount of time. Immediately, a red flag came up in my mind. Jk and I definitely don’t meet that criteria… But our doctor seemed so confident that we would qualify. She continued to send helpful information, saying that if we were to qualify, our insurance would only ever provide enough to cover the first IVF cycle. Additionally, we would be expected to pay for the cost of medicine ourselves. My head was spinning with prices far more expensive than I anticipated. 

At the end of our conversation, my new blogger friend wrote, “I hope I didn’t freak you out with the whole insurance thing.” To be totally candid, I was freaked out. My impression after leaving the doctor’s office was that we would definitely be approved to do IVF and it wouldn’t be very expensive. I hoped that I wouldn’t have the same experience as my friend, but only time would tell. It wasn’t too long before a nurse from our clinic’s billing department called and I knew exactly what questions to ask. The nurse expressed that our insurance company had only started providing infertility care this year, so she couldn’t say for sure if they would approve us or not. We would just have to wait for feedback from the company.


Over the next week, my thoughts were all over the place. I tried to make a plan for the upcoming months, but I felt like a character in a Choose Your Own Adventure book; each choice only leading to more choices. At least twice a day, I texted my husband changing my mind about what we should do. Put off school, save money, do IVF in Utah... Move to Arizona, skip IVF, save for the future. Back and forth I went, not settling on any decision. Finally, on Tuesday morning, I texted Jk: Here is how I am feeling today. Even though I change my mind every day. // I am feeling like we should wait to do IVF or adopt until we are in Arizona. // I want a baby more than anything and it is so hard to wait but something inside me says it’s not the right time yet.

A few hours later, I received a phone call from the billing department, letting me know that our insurance provider would not pay for IVF. We were denied because we hadn’t been trying for long enough and we hadn’t had any failed IUIs. The nurse apologized and hung up. Standing there in the mother’s lounge at work (of all the ironic places), I felt a confirmation that Heavenly Father had been preparing me to receive that news all week.
So here I am, with a hundred feelings in my heart. First and foremost, gratitude to God for giving me a little cushion to break my fall. And close second, confusion about His timing. I wanted so badly for IVF to work out. I want to be pregnant! There, I said it—I want to be pregnant. Carrying a little baby whose name I’ve known for way too long. But that day seems so foreign to me. Some days I don’t feel brave enough to make it there.

Lord, I cannot. But you can.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Getting an Answer!

For 400+ days, my husband and I had no idea why we couldn’t get pregnant. This week, we got our answer!

We were scheduled for an appointment with the fertility doctor in the late afternoon on Monday. All throughout the morning, my chest was filled with excitement and anticipation. This was the appointment when we would hear the results from our tests and we would make a plan for how to move forward! In my mind, I ran through every possible outcome—a problem with me; with Jk; with both of us; with neither. More than anything, I just wanted clear answers!
The weather and roads were really bad that day, so our doctor was running a little late with his appointments. Jk and I sat in the waiting room for nearly 30 minutes, going half crazy. Finally, we were taken back to speak with the doctor. I tried to gauge what kind of news he had for us, but his handshake wasn’t giving anything away. 
Finally (FINALLY!), we received our test results... It turns out that I’m a Fertile Myrtle! All this time, we suspected endometriosis or at least thought something was off with my body. We were wrong. As we looked through the results from Jk’s sperm test, our doctor explained that the numbers were shockingly low—like a 1% chance of us getting pregnant naturally. I know that I’ve joked about hoping something was wrong with Jk rather than myself, but in reality it didn’t matter whether it was him or me. Infertility obviously affects both of us! Of course we were bummed, but in a way we were also relieved. We had an answer!
Coming into that appointment, I had my mind made up that I was not interested in IVF (In Vitro Fertilization). In fact, a week before, someone asked me if I was going to do "those shot things” and I confidently said no. I had heard a lot of stories about failed pregnancies from IVF and also honestly, I am just really afraid of shots! But as we sat in our doctor’s office that day, we were given all kinds of helpful information. First, I realized that in the process of IVF, injections don’t even last 2 weeks and that the needles are tiny. More importantly, we talked about timing and possibilities. I was given hope that by June (4 months away!), I could be pregnant through IVF. My heart gushed and my brain shifted and I thought, We are going to be one of those couples who has a baby through IVF.
As we drove home, I wanted to shout Hallelujahs out the window! We could be pregnant before we even move to Arizona! Jk and I called our moms and told them the great news. I texted certain friends and family members, saying our appointment had gone well and letting them know that we made a plan for moving forward. I was on Cloud Nine. For a day.
The rest of the story is a roller-coaster that we’re still riding. After making up our minds to do IVF, we discovered that our insurance won’t cover a giant portion of IVF, which is the medicine. While setting up pre-authorization through the clinic's billing department, I started to panic. I heard the estimated price for medication and all of my hopes for getting pregnant in June slipped away. At this point, we are still trying to process all that has happened and we haven't made any definitive decisions. This is an entirely new level of infertility that I haven’t experienced before. I want to do hard things. But it turns out doing them is hard!

Thursday, February 23, 2017

How to Talk About Infertility

A few months ago, I was interacting with a mother and her little girl. I made a comment about how I adore children and the mom asked me, “If you love kids so much, why don’t you have any?” I could not have been more surprised. Dumbfounded, I thought, Wait a minute! Someone can just ask you that? I panicked and didn’t know what to say. I wanted to give an appropriate response but I honestly couldn’t answer why I didn’t have any kids. My husband and I weren't using birth control, we were making an effort, and we wanted to get pregnantit just wasn’t happening.

How do you casually share the struggles of your fragile heart with an acquaintance? I didn’t want to make the situation awkward, and yet, it was an awkward question! In the end, I blurted out something about waiting for the “right timing”.

For nearly a year, I only talked about infertility with my husband and my best friend. On several occasions, I was asked by acquaintances and coworkers when Jk and I would start a family. With my walls high and my ego low, I would quickly and dismissively tell half-truths. I carried a dark, heavy secret because I was embarrassed and didn’t want to inconvenience to anyone. I was ashamed of my body and my inability to do something that seemed to come so easily for so many. I didn’t know how to talk about what I was going through without feeling like a burden to others.

Fast forward to February 2017. I am waiting in the longest passport line, talking on the phone with my best friend. We are talking about infertility, the possibility of adoption, and my upcoming appointment at a fertility clinic. I’m not talking loud enough to be obnoxious, but I’m not whispering. I am surrounded by strangers who can clearly hear my conversation. Shortly after I’ve hung up, a man standing in front of me turns and says, “I think I heard you talking about pregnancy... Are you expecting?” My heart swells. I smile and tell him, “We actually haven’t been able to get pregnant for a while now. But we are seeing a fertility doctor and we are really excited about it!” I’m not embarrassed. In fact, I feel self-confident!
One year ago, I wasn’t ready to have an open conversation with a stranger about infertility. Heck, I wasn’t even ready to have an open conversation with my mother. So what has changed? 

I’ve learned few things since then. 1) Infertility and pregnancy loss are much more common that I ever thought. 2) You can't change the questions you are asked, but you can change how you answer them. 3) The moment you open up, you are exposed to a community of other people who previously thought that they were suffering alone. If only we would share our experiences, these topics wouldn’t be so taboo. Lately I’ve been realizing that infertility is just another part of my life, rather than a tragic curse. Just as I would talk about my uncle breaking his leg on Christmas morning, I can share the fact that on Monday morning, my doctor inflated a balloon inside my belly!

Believe me, there are still hard days when the darkness comes and knocks me down. That doesn’t mean that I am obligated to blog about my every woe. I just think that if we are more open with our insecurities, we will see that our problems aren’t so unique. If we talk about the hard things, maybe they won't be so hard.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Fertility Testing, Valium, and the Worst Pain Ever

Jk and I had our first day of fertility testing last Monday, the day before Valentine’s Day (how romantic, I know). We were both scheduled for exams and decided to do them separately to save time. Jk was taken down the hall while I was given a pelvic ultrasound with our doctor and nurse. I’ll spare you the details of the exam, but I do want to say that the staff made me feel very comfortable. During the procedure, I was able to see a monitor showing exactly what the doctor was seeing. I couldn’t make out what was what, so I spent a lot of the time focusing on taking deep breaths and staring at a half burned-out light on the ceiling. The exam took less than 10 minutes and the doctor mentioned that his initial impression was that everything was functioning properly. The possibility of endometriosis couldn’t be entirely ruled out, but he didn’t see any signs of it at first glance! This was presented as good news, to which I was equally surprised and relieved.
After my ultrasound, I went to another room with the nurse to get my blood drawn. I have always been over-the-top afraid of needles. In fact, I have a distinct memory of clinging to a chair in the lobby of a doctor’s office as a child, wailing and bawling my eyes out, refusing to get up and get my blood drawn! #SorryNotSorry, Mom! ...Not much has changed since then, except for the fact that I now bawl on the inside! Luckily, Jk met up with me just as I was sitting down for my tests. My husband is the goofiest, best person to have around whenever I am anxious. He held my hand and made me nervous-laugh throughout the entire process.
By the end of the appointment, we were told that the results of our exams should be processed by the next Monday (today), when I would take an HSG. Which brings me to… today, day 2 of testing!

I was warned that the HSG exam would be the worst and most difficult part of the entire testing process. Basically, an HSG is an x-ray test looking at the uterus and fallopian tubes to make sure there are no blockages. During the procedure, the doctor inserts a balloon catheter to expand the uterus and injects dye into the tubes. I read and heard stories about how painful the procedure could be and was not looking forward to it. When the nurse offered to write a prescription for Valium to calm my anxieties for the exam, I was all for it! 

However, somehow during the week, details about pharmacy hours slipped my mind and I realized that I had forgotten to fill my prescription for Valium. The pharmacy we intended to use was closed for the weekend and holiday and it seemed there was no way to get the medicine before my appointment. On Saturday afternoon, I emailed our doctor in a complete panic, asking if there was any way to change the pharmacy. I waited and continued to check my email, but wasn’t sure if he would check his messages on the weekend. Finally, on Sunday morning, our nurse called, saying our doctor had gotten ahold of her and she was able to transfer the prescription to a 24-hour Walgreens! What a miracle! With our ox in the mire, we picked up my one single Valium pill on Sunday afternoon.

During the night, I woke up several times, worried and scared of the pain that might come in the morning. Luckily, we chose the very first appointment of the day in order the get the procedure done and over with. Feeling antsy, we arrived a little early and waited in the lobby until the office opened. Right away, the receptionist offered me ibuprofen and here’s how the conversation went. Receptionist: “I can give you up to 4 ibuprofen. How many would you like?” Me: “I will take everything you can give me.”
 
I was actually shaking. I took all 4 pills, my one Valium, and I tried to let Jk’s goofy jokes distract me. Finally, we were taken to the procedure room, where Jk waited with me until the actual exam began (radiation dangers, etc.). Long story short, it was worse and better than what I expected. The doctor calmly talked me through the procedure as it went, but I felt moments of such sharp and intense pain that I couldn’t make much sense of anything. It hurt more than I could have expected, but I was relieved that the whole process took less than 5 minutes. I sat up as Jk came in the room and I felt wobbly as I attempted to get dressed.
My experience with HSG was bad, but not entirely terrible. The procedure itself was distressing but I didn’t experience the horrible post-cramping I had heard about. I felt slightly woozy and light-headed as we drove to our friends’ house, where I laid on their couch and they made us cinnamon pull-aparts. Today was both physically and emotionally exhausting, but I am happy to report that it was the last of the initial fertility tests! We should be meeting with our doctor again shortly to go over the results and formulate a plan for what comes next.
This process has not been the most fun thing of my life, but I've been told that it will be worth it. When I’m feeling alone or forgotten or in the most pain of my life, I try to remember why I’m doing this… Why I work extra hours to make up for doctor’s appointments in the middle of the day; why I weep and pray and fast every month, begging for the same thing; why I pour my heart out into a blog I’m not sure will amount to anything… It’s because some day, we will have a family. We will get pregnant or we will adopt or some other miracle will happen that will make us parents. My patient, wonderful husband will be a dad. And he will tell dad jokes and play guitar and sing to a little tiny baby. And me… I will be a mom. I will hold the most precious baby and I will help him or her feel like the most important human being there ever was. I will channel all of Heavenly Father’s love into this tiny human being and I will never give up. These are my dreams. And I know it will be hard, but I will remember that I have already survived hard things.

"...All these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good." - D&C 122:7
 

Friday, February 17, 2017

Infertility Amongst Pregnancy Announcements

We had a number of significant things happen this week. First and foremost, my super smart husband was admitted into the MS Computer Engineering program at ASU for Fall 2017! Arizona State University in Tempe has been his first choice for a while now and I knew that he would get in! He is a hard worker and I am proud of him! There is still so much that we have to plan, but we are really excited. It looks like we will be moving to Arizona around August!
In other news, I’ve lost count of the number of Valentine’s Day baby announcements and I feel an obligation to disclose that we are NOT pregnant. It is this social media surge that has inspired me to write about my experience with infertility amongst pregnancy announcements. I hope that by sharing my feelings candidly and honestly, my thoughts won’t be offensive.

I woke up on Tuesday morning and as per my usual bad habit, I looked at Facebook. I’d been so distracted with fertility tests that I barely had time to think about the holiday. As I opened my browser, I did not expect to see a flood of pregnancy announcements. But there they were.

Friends from the past; best friends; work friendsso many friends expecting babies! A huge part of my heart was overjoyed! But a teeny tiny part of my heart felt heavy. I pushed the hard feelings deep down and focused on all of my reasons to be happy. I have a valentine who brings me flowers and pizza rolls! My friends are announcing great news! Life is good! Like a mantra, I repeated these things to myself over and over. And yet before 8 AM, I broke down crying.
At work, I was relieved to spend the morning alone processing my thoughts. Every part of me knows that there is no use in comparing my life to someone else’s. But when it comes to babies, logic goes out the window and my emotions take over. Entitled thoughts came flying in, “Why does everyone else get a baby? No fair! When is it my turn?” I searched Instagram hashtags about infertility support; I continued to repeat my mantra; but I still felt like garbage and I didn’t know how to feel better.

Midday, the thought occurred to me: Forget yourself and serve someone else. My brother came to mind, my wonderful hilarious brother who lives just a few blocks away. I wanted to do something special to help him feel loved on a holiday that can be hard for some (myself included). I talked with my husband and we decided to “heart attack” my brother before he got home from work. That tiny part of my heart continued to ache, but it was overshadowed by my excitement to serve.
Most days, I remember that I have a valentine who loves me enough to bring me flowers and pizza rolls. But some days, I want to push pause on every other pregnancy announcement. Some days, all I want is to hold a baby who is our own. It is those days when I am feeling impatient and imperfect that I need to remember to forget myself and serve someone else.

What advice do you have for staying positive?