Sunday, December 30, 2007
"Fill us with her spirit of courage to suffer any struggle rather than deny You and the sanctity of human life."
For those of us who are Catholic, and for whom IVF is not an option, I think this line speaks volumes. Although I am not entirely sure that IVF would even help me, the fact that it is not an option is a big deal. There are so many Catholic women like myself who struggle with infertility and who want children more than anything else in the world, but still will not do IVF because they and their Church don't agree with it. What a great testimony to the sanctity of human life this is! Because it was such an easy decision for me to not consider IVF, I think I often overlook this. I had a priest tell me once what a grace it was that I wasn't tempted by it. I had never thought about that.
So like they probably did with St. Gianna (who chose to die rather than abort the baby in her womb), people may think I am crazy (I always think they're thinking, "well you must not want a baby that bad!"). And like Gianna knew all too well, the decision to honor the sanctity of all human life doesn't come without great struggle. The Lord never said following Him would be easy and like the line from the litany says, I'd rather suffer in this manner than deny the Lord. This week as I say my novena, I will try to draw strength from St. Gianna. I'm sure she endured her suffering much better than I could ever imagine.
Saturday, December 29, 2007
Two things have been bothering me lately though. The first is my upcoming surgery. For some reason I have anxiety about it. This isn't out of the ordinary for me because I usually find something to be anxious about. It's like I have a designated part of my brain for anxiety and when one anxiety inducing event (i.e. a plane ride) is over, my mind immediately finds something else to take its place. When I am momentarily happy I usually know something will come along to knock me down. I don't mean like God sends something bad my way, I actually mean my mind will suddenly focus on something negative and cause me to be anxious or depressed. I am definitely my own worst enemy. So right now, I am anxious about my surgery. The odd part is that I wasn't nervous about my laparoscopy in August and it went very well. This time, for some reason, I am scared something is going to go wrong during the surgery or in the days following. I think it might be because I recently moved away from my family and friends and in the six weeks of recovering it will be just me and my husband. Not that he won't do a good job of taking care of me, but I won't have my mom to take care of me, or others to come cheer me up. That thought usually makes me start crying lately. It could also be because I convinced my husband to let us drive out to Omaha this time around. Not having a flight to be scared about means I have to find something else to fear.
My other big issue right now is how unfair it is that everyone else can have children. I know how unhealthy and probably even sinful it is to think someone who is pregnant or has kids doesn't deserve them, but I have definitely thought this before. I try to fight it off when I start thinking it, but it's hard. The ultimate is 'why does God allow women to conceive who will abort their baby', followed by 'why does God allow child abusers to have children'. You can substitute in bad parents, people younger than me, people who have everything, etc., etc., etc. I know the answer to these questions (or at least I have heard many versions of answers) and I also know these thoughts only cause me more suffering, but it's still hard not to think them.
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
Lately I've been busy working on my documentary. It's been going really good and it's been getting my mind off of infertility. I might post a trailer for it on here soon. My husband put one together and he did a really great job.
I had a minor set back with my new hopeful attitude last night. I started to have anxiety about my upcoming surgery and cried for a little while. I know I don't have any reason to be nervous. It's just a fear of the unknown, although it's not entirely unknown since I had surgery there just a few months ago. I'm trying to give it up to God.
We also took the first step towards adoption in our new state. It's a little more expensive than it would have been in NY, and there's a wait just to have a homestudy. The woman told us there are about nine couples waiting to have that done, and many more waiting who have already completed the homestudy. The good part, though, is that once the homestudy is complete you could be chosen by a mother at any time. We have to send pictures and information that they choose from. So I told my husband that we might have an upper hand since he's really cute! First we have to fill out some initial paperwork and send it in. We've only gotten past this stage once, so we'll see if we really do it. I'd like to begin the process before my surgery so I know in the back of my mind that it's an option. I think it will make it easier if I don't get pregnant right away, knowing the process is already a few months along.
So the rest of my day consists of baking cupcakes, which I'm very excited about! I am making several different varieties for my family for Christmas. It started out that I was going to make them instead of spending a ton of money on presents, since this is our first Christmas since switching over to a strict budget where we pay for everything in cash. But... it turns out the ingredients, supplies, test runs, etc. are going to cost me a lot more than normal presents would have. But they'll taste better! And I'm going to vow right now not to check any celebrity sites for the rest of the day. I have to start with small goals!
Saturday, December 15, 2007
I'm not talking about the dark days. Those I blame largely on myself, my lack of trust and refusal to carry the cross. I'm talking about the experiences I have had solely because of infertility, things I wouldn't have experienced without it. If you focus on those you'll begin to see a pattern. This is what God intended my infertility to be - a beautiful path filled with wonderful people and spiritual encounters. Here is a sampling:
- I swear my Creighton educator is heaven sent. During our first phone call she told me of her own battle with infertility and how she conceived shortly after giving it completely over to God (she went on to have six or seven kids). I can't begin to explain the guidance she has given me, and that's saying nothing about her help with the Creighton Model. Even the way I found out she existed was amazing. It was my first day at a new job at a Catholic retreat center that I was unsure about taking. I overheard someone say the diocese had a new fertility expert, so I called. I'm not sure I would have found out otherwise. So even during bad days at that job, I knew why God had put me there.
- Or how about our impromptu trip to the middle of Pennsylvania to meet with a priest who has been given the gift of healing. Father Mike's been known to pray with infertile couples only to have them conceive shortly thereafter (humbly, he admits he has no idea why he has this gift and, as he told us, would rather heal cancer patients if he had his say). Sitting in the basement of a house he shares with his elderly grandmother, he told us his story, asked about ours, then held our hands and said a simple Hail Mary. Then we went to lunch. I'm leaving out some detail, but it's safe to say it was one of the most surreal experiences of my life (now I just hope we don't break his good track record!). And, once again, the way I found out about him was bizarre. I applied for a job with my state's Right to Life Committee and while emailing with the executive director it soon came up that I was dealing with infertility (I still wonder how it got to that point so quickly, not the usual job-interview conversation. Only God can make something like that happen). She immediately told me about her infertility (she now has a daughter), Fr. Mike and about the PPVI Institute. I didn't end up taking the job, but I owe a lot to her.
- Last July I had to have an ultrasound series done ahead of my laparoscopy at PPVI. Unable to travel to Omaha for this, I was told that the only other ultrasound technician trained in their method on the east coast was in New Jersey. So I spent a week at the Morning Star Family Health Center (their web page displays the lyrics to "Gentle Woman" and their tag line is "Building a Culture of Life in Family Health Care". How great is that?!) where I received some of the most caring, wonderful treatment I'd ever experienced. I left with a really great feeling, an unofficial diagnosis and some hope.
- While in New Jersey we realized we weren't far from the St. Gianna Shrine just outside of Philadelphia. We drove up to the address only to find a small parish church with no sign of the shrine. After searching the entire premises, we entered the church to discovered a very simple, small shrine in the back corner of the sanctuary. Two women were sitting watch while a relic of St. Gianna - her white gloves - was displayed. I knelt, cried and prayed while holding the gloves and after praying I mustered the courage to approach the women to tell them why I was there. Immediately one of the women, who happened to be pregnant, told me she also suffered from infertility and conceived her first child after praying for the intercession of St. Gianna (her current pregnancy was actually her second). She also suffered from endometriosis, which I was told I had just the day before. The experience was a gift from God, and I continue to have a devotion to St. Gianna.
- And, of course, our entire experience with PPVI. From our trip to Omaha to the great care I have been given, this speaks for itself.
To me, these are all signs that God is in this. Perhaps an even bigger sign of God's presence is the fact that I can recognize this at all.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
1) a biological child, or
2) an adopted child, and peace of mind
The peace part was the missing link all along. I still have a hard time believing I will be fulfilled by adopting, so in order for me to start having hope I must trust that if God does not intend for us to have a biological child that He will give me peace with that. I used to think about the two options above (minus the peace part) and it did me no good. But simply by believing God will give me peace, I find myself having hope. Not sure if that makes sense, but it's working.
I am kind of tenative about this, though, because I go through phases quite often and today could just be a good day. I need to remember that at some point I will get depressed again. It might be tomorrow, it might be next month. If I accept that it will happen I will be able to handle it and not allow it to send me into a downward spiral.
So tonight I thank God for this grace, no matter how long it lasts. And I look forward to having a child either way!
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
While I usually think I am totally justified in my depression, anger and frustration, deep down I know my temper tantrums aren't pleasing to God. And with God in the role of "parent," it's definitely not going to get me what I want.
With that in mind, I feel like I need to change things. This is nothing new. I've prayed for years to have peace with infertility. I know this peace can't come without turning over my anger, frustration, sadness and all that comes with infertility to God. I have spent many hours in front of the Blessed Sacrament trying to do this very thing. Kneeling, I try to visualize my problems as a material thing that I place at the bottom of the monstrance in front of me, or at the feet of Christ. I'm obviously doing something wrong because it hasn't worked.
Lately, I feel like it's getting worse. I have this feeling like my soul is rotting and I'm doing nothing to nurture it. I know this problem is caused by my lack of trust in God. I realized this while reading an amazing post today by Et-tu. It's far more insightful than I could ever be, but it made me realize that this lack of trust is the root of all of my problems. It is possible to trust in God and when I do, He will protect me when I fall.
So, then, how do I go about actually doing this? As I've said, I've tried before to no avail. Today, though, I realized I do have a personal experience I can draw upon.
Being a cradle Catholic, I fell away from the Church in my twenties like many people do. I still believed in and loved God and always considered myself Catholic, I just wasn't attending Mass and was definitely not living the life God wanted for me.
About a week after returning from my honeymoon, I began to go through an amazing conversion, except I didn't know that's what it was at the time (I should also point out that this started before I realized I was infertile, but was perhaps God's way of preparing me). I started to get horrible anxiety, like I was sinking into a black hole. I was hysterical. I couldn't eat, sleep, or function. The best way to describe it is like a constant panic attack. My poor husband probably wondered what he got himself into. Interestingly enough, this wasn't the first time I had experienced this. It first happened to me at age 17. As with this time, I experienced constant and indescribable panic and cried constantly, even at school. People must have thought I was losing my mind, and I kind of was. During both experiences, the focus of the panic was a fear that there was no God (I now understand, and have been told by others, that this was God's way of showing me what the world would truly be like without him. I experienced it, and let me just say, it was hell). I didn't know it then, but it was a typical "dark night of the soul" and is actually an enormous grace.
This most recent time, after my wedding, the panic lasted a few months but the lack of belief in God lingered for about two years. I realized rather quickly that this was the beginning of a conversion that would change my life forever. I started going to Mass, went back to confession (which helped immensely), Perpetual Adoration, and began a Formation for Ministry program (I actually did these things at a time when I didn't believe in God. Go figure). It took a while, but finally, after many, many months I was able to say I truly believed in God shortly after Easter 2005.
It wasn't easy. I had an awesome advisor as part of the Formation program who met with me weekly. A 70-something Sister of St. Joseph, she was my angel sent from God to help me believe again. She suggested that I pray that my anxiety be lifted on Easter Sunday and envision it being taken up to Heaven, just like Christ. I did, and it worked. It didn't happen instantaneously, but a few weeks later I realized the black hole was gone.
But that wasn't the only thing that finally did it. The other thing that worked (and the point of me telling this story) is that I just acted like I had faith. I've heard many people talk about this, and I can't say enough how well it works. It's actually, not to be cliche, taking a leap of faith. I soon experienced God so personally that I understand why it can be hard to explain the experience to non-believers.
What helped me to do this was hearing the lyrics to a song called "What If?" by Nicole Nordeman. It was like the song was written just for me, a skeptic. One part in particular that affected me was this:
What if you jump
Just close your eyes
What if the arms that catch you, catch you by surprise
I decided that's what I need to do - and, if these lyrics were true, God would protect me from what I was most afraid of - falling. It worked that time and it will work now too. I just need to jump.
On another note - it's 76 degrees here today! I'm a northerner and so not use to this. It's like I'm on vacation.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
So all this time I haven't been ovulating. I have taken dozens of pregnancy tests over the last three years and I never had a shot at any of them. Dr. Hilgers said there's no chance, barring a miracle, that I can get pregnant before my surgery. This news was upsetting at first, but it's been kind of relaxing since then knowing that I don't have to worry about what day I'm on, if I've had enough mucus and if we're trying on the right days. It's been a bit of a break. But on the flip side, it's frustrating knowing that I just have to wait. There's no way I will get pregnant any time soon.
Dr. Hilgers also told me that my bloodwork shows I will need some hormone therapy following my surgery. He said the hormone levels that are off are due to stress. I couldn't believe it! Well actually I could. But what really surprised me was that simply de-stressing was not enough to regulate the hormones. I can relax all I want and I still need to take something.
So now there's less than a month to go until my surgery and I'm officially starting to get nervous. I'm not scared of the actual surgery. What makes me nervous is the physical pain immediately following and the emotional pain if I still can't get pregnant in the months following. That's why it is so hard to have hope. I am constantly protecting myself from potential future heartache. Hope really scares me. If anyone happens to read this (and makes it to this point) and has some advice on how to have hope in the face of possible heartbreak, please let me know.
On the bright side, a few months ago I wouldn't have been able to write any of this. I had absolutely no idea what was wrong with me and thought I could potentially never know for sure. So this is a step in the right direction. And I am thankful everyday that I've found the Pope Paul VI Institute. I know I am in the right hands and have the greatest chance for success that I can possibly have.
Monday, December 10, 2007
So I think tomorrow we're going to call Catholic Charities, just for information since we just moved to a new state. The other issue is if we do decide to do it, do we wait until we're back from my surgery to start the process? Do we wait until months later, after I find out if the surgery worked? If so, how long is that? I could have the surgery and it could still take years to get pregnant (I assume). I'm almost 31. How long do we keep waiting?
Last week I had a hard time and was really depressed for a few days, crying every day, just hysterical. That's when I decided that if I adopt that I will refuse to have a baby shower, because it's not really my baby and that would be stupid. I know that's silly, but in the moment I believed it. Later I realized among other things it would be a rotten thing to do to the child. What if they ever asked if there was a baby shower? Personally I've never asked my mother about hers, but it's just the thought of it.
Maybe I'm not ready to seriously consider adoption, but then I feel like that's not fair either. Why can't I just be okay with adoption? I can't have biological children and I'm not ready to adopt. Ahhh! It's not fair! I've been praying that God will open my heart to adoption and he hasn't yet. Another unanswered prayer. Why would God not want us to be parents?
Actually, today was a good day. Teared up tonight thinking about adoption but that was really it.
Saturday, December 8, 2007
I hadn't thought much about what the readings would be at Mass today ahead of time, but I should have known - the Gospel reading is a favorite of mine. Throughout the last three years I have been obsessed with finding comfort in Scripture. I know this isn't always good and probably has caused me to miss the meaning in a great many passages. After all, I don't believe God wants me to be entirely consumed by infertility. There's a better than average chance he wants me to think about a lot of other things. But even so, I have blinders on. So, with that in mind, today's Gospel on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary speaks to me and my struggle with infertility.
I believe it does this for at least two reasons. Obviously, the story of Elizabeth is what I hope for (although I hope it happens when I'm a tad bit younger). The sudden, unexpected pregnancy when all hope seemed lost. I mean, think about it. The phrase "for nothing will be impossible for God" could have been talking about the resurrection, or the incarnation or any of the other wonders of the Bible. I would have found comfort in those words no matter what they had been specificially referring to. But, no, they are referring to my very struggle. I think that is a gift. God isn't mincing words here; he is using infertility to make a much broader point but is nonetheless referring to infertility.
The rest of the passage, meanwhile, speaks to me about not necessarily getting pregnant, but the journey. A couple years ago, early on in my infertility struggle, it occurred to me when reading this passage that God may be calling me to infertility, in much the same way that he called Mary to fertility. I had never thought of infertility as a calling before and the notion gave me comfort. To someone who wants to be pregnant more than anything else in the world, the idea of an angel appearing to you and telling you you'll conceive a child is like a dream. I don't care if the angel told me my baby would have two heads and green skin. But, in all honesty, the fear and hesitation Mary likely felt when the angel propositioned her is probably no different than if an angel appeared and asked me to not conceive a child. She knew it seemed absurd, it would be difficult, it would change her life. I assume it was not part of any day dreams she'd had about her future. But she said yes. And, like Mary, I need to have the courage to say 'yes' to waiting, or to say 'may it be done to me according to your word.' I need to follow her example of obedience. That hasn't been going too well so far, but I think it's a step in the right direction that I'm even thinking about it.
On a side note, I'm already having a good day because my husband and I went out to breakfast after Mass. We don't have a lot of spending money right now, but I'm always will to spend it regardless. He's the one that reigns us in. So when he suggested it, I was so excited! (it doesn't take much). When we'd finished, I asked him if it was bad that I had eaten eggs benedict when I was trying to diet until Christmas. In response, he actually suggested we should start a new tradition of literally feasting on feast days (therefore, I was actually required to splurge!). So we decided that we should go out to eat to celebrate all Holy Days from now on. And I guess that also means any other feast days of personal importance to us, like the feasts of St. Therese (special to me because we share the same birthday and my confirmation name is Rose), St. Maximilian (patron of pro-life causes and journalists), St. Anne (my middle name), St. Gianna (love her - I'll write about that in the future), St. Gerard, I could go on and on! I love eating out! Seriously though, good friends of ours celebrate all of their feast days. It's the child's special day and they have a cake, I believe. That is one tradition that I would love to do with my children, if I am blessed with any. So why wait?
Friday, December 7, 2007
I had a bit of a breakdown today. It had to do with what my chances of conceiving will be after my laparatomy. Dr. Hilgers told us in August that it will be 50-60%, and for some reason I decided to break down about that today. In my mind, that is immediately translated to a 40-50% chance of not conceiving. I know I should be happy my chances of conceiving will be better than not conceiving. I'll try to think about it like that.
On another topic (sort of), I'll write a little more about myself. I am 30, currently unemployed and not sure what I want to do with my life (well, I want to be a stay-at-home mom, but we know how that's going). I grew up in Upstate New York, where I lived until this September. That's where I met my husband, when we worked together in t.v. news. I have since left television, but he still works in it, which is what brought us to Virginia, where we now live. I am not working due, in part, to my upcoming surgery at the Pope Paul VI Institute. Since we just moved here a couple months ago, we figured it'd be nuts to start a job only to take 6 weeks off right away. While I am doing a lot of relaxing, baking and playing with my dog, I am also using the time to work on a documentary I'm producing about the Catholic devotion of Perpetual Adoration. There was a Perpetual Adoration chapel where we used to live, where I was an adorer, and I think the fact that people are there 24 hours a day, 365 days a year is just amazing. I'm sure I'll write more about it in the future. The only other important things about me that I can think of are that I am an artist and staunchly pro-life.
Besides of all that, the best way to describe myself is that I am absolutely consumed by infertility. It's practically all I think about and it has dictated the last three years and two months of my life. I am perpetually sad and I wonder how I'll be able to live if it comes to the point where we have exhausted all of our medical options and I'm still not pregnant. Luckily, we're not there yet, but being a pessimist I am already distraught about that possibility. I try to put my faith in God, but that hasn't been going too well! I often feel like I have no hope and I find myself angry at God, which then makes me feel really guilty. It's just that I sometimes feel like God isn't helping me, like He has promised. To that, you could say, 'well you haven't completely trusted in Him!' And you'd be right. It's just that I know that bad things still happen to faithful Christians. There's a very good chance (or, more specifically, a 40-50% chance) that I will trust God and still never conceive a child. So how will I go on with my life? My husband says that if that were to happen, God will take care of me and I will still have joy in my life. Trusting in God doesn't mean that I trust he'll allow me to get pregnant, but rather trusting that He knows what is best for me. But right now I wholeheartedly believe that if I never conceive, I will never have joy in my life; I may have moments of happiness, but not joy. I guess believing what I have deemed impossible (whether that means conceiving a child or having joy without children) is what having faith is all about.
I've been thinking about writing a blog for some time now, and for some reason I have decided today is the day. I know I'll regret it later if I don't document my infertility journey as I go through it. If nothing else can come out of this, I hope that my story can help someone else. Since this all began I have found help hard to come by, so I hope that perhaps I can help to change that for others, in some tiny way.
So let me introduce myself in case anyone happens upon this blog. I am 30 years old, live in the Richmond, VA area (for only a few months) and have been struggling with infertility for three years now. I've probably been infertile for years, but I was married in September, 2004, and failed my first pregnancy test probably a month later. That's when I knew. How was I so sure? Probably because I'm a pessimist and because when, in college, I watched an episode of Party of Five where Matthew Fox's wife learns she's infertile I cried like a baby and thought, "That would be the worst thing ever. I'm afraid that might happen to me." So since then the fear of being infertile has been in the far back of my mind, but when it didn't happen right away I knew. Also, looking back, I had what I now understand to be endometriosis "attacks" several times since age 19, twice landing in the emergency room. I was always told it was gastrointestinal.
So after waiting the obligatory year to visit an OBGYN (I'm not even sure where I got that "rule" from, I didn't even try), I was put through all the regular tests, bloodwork, sonograms and six Clomid cycles. After those didn't work I was put on a waiting list for a fertility doctor known for all of his successful IVF cases. Being Catholic, IVF was not an option but my OBGYN really made me feel like if I didn't go, it was the end of the line for me ("and I must not really want a child if I won't do IVF." She didn't actually say that, but sometimes I think people think that.) So I sought the counsel of faithful friends who all agreed that it would be worthwhile to use the appointment as a "fact-finding mission." So we went and I knew I made a mistake when there were huge containers breathing dry ice smoke all over the hallways. A nurse told me they were doing housecleaning and, like I suspected, they were in fact frozen embryo containers.
The fertility doctor told me I needed a laparoscopy, but I decided not to have it done by him. I had, a few months earlier, begun learning the Creighton Model fertility care system through the Pope Paul VI Institute in Omaha, NE (I will post much more on that later) and after meeting with an educator who teaches you all about mucus and charting (and who was sent to us by God), all of my information was sent to Dr. Hilgers in Omaha. After he reviewed it he, too, determined I needed a laparoscopy. After a VERY long wait (a year from the time I began charting), I had a laparoscopy in Omaha in August '07. Upon waking up from the surgery, I was greeted by my husband (actually, they couldn't find him for a while.. he was wearing headphones when they paged him) who told me it went great - except for the fact that the endometriosis was so bad Dr. Hilgers couldn't do anything at that time and I would have to schedule a second, much more invasive surgery. I started crying and then, after many hours, realized it wasn't the worst news I could have gotten. My uterus is okay. My tubes are okay. My ovaries are sort of okay. My left ovary is 5-times its normal size and the right one is three times bigger because of the endometriosis - but they, underneath it all, are okay.
So, to wrap up this very long story... my second surgery is scheduled for January 8. I can't remember the name of it right now but it will take four hours and I will have to stay in the hospital for like three days. Dr. Hilgers says following this surgery and hormone treatment, our chances of conceiving will be between 50-60%. It could be a lot worse.
Now you know the clinical, factual side of my infertility journey, but there is much more to it. I'm also an emotional wreck, depressed, angry, hopeless, at times left wondering how I'll live without a child (because, as I said earlier, I can be a pessimist). Then there's the whole adoption issue. So much more to come!
Now for the most important part of this blog thus far (I told you you could skim)... a link to the Pope Paul VI Institute website. If you or someone you know is dealing with infertilty and hasn't sought their help, do so now: