Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Infertility is Half Agony, Half Hope

There has been no greater struggle in my life than our struggle to start a family. One might wonder why I still give credence to that pain given that I have what I'd argue is the cutest toddler in the history of toddlers (no offense to other cute toddlers). I love my son with a fierceness I didn't know existed in the world, and I wouldn't change a single minute of my path to be his mom. But it was brutal and emotionally harrowing, and it is the hardest thing I've ever been through.

This week is National Infertility Awareness Week. Unless you've been through it I imagine it will be difficult to explain, but I'm going to try my hardest. I spent three years trying to get pregnant and then waited three years during our adoption process. Those six years were a roller coaster of emotion. Every step forward and every positive result was battered back repeatedly. It was exhausting.

I was 30 years old when we got married. I had a gut feeling given my health issues that it wouldn't be easy for me to get pregnant. We said to one another that we weren't "trying" to get pregnant exactly, but we were no longer preventing it either. Six months into our marriage I went to my OB/GYN for a checkup. She told me at my age that after six months I should've gotten pregnant. She suggested we do blood tests to make sure I was ovulating and start Clomid (an ovulation inducing drug) if I was not. It felt early on in the process, but I went with it.

Clomid is a horrible, evil beast. It made me a crazy person, and I was miserable. I lashed out at my husband for no reason. I knew my behavior was irrational, but I wasn't able to control it. Blood work revealed that the Clomid was working, and I was ovulating. After months on the devil's drug with no results we decided to reevaluate.

My husband and I were both tested to make sure everything was working properly. Given my abdominal surgeries, resulting scar tissue and my severe endometriosis, my OB recommended a Hysterosalpingography (HSG) where they run dye through the Fallopian tubes to make sure there's no blockages. The HSG and all other tests revealed no issues. We were given the tepid diagnosis of "unexplained infertility". I switched from Clomid to Femara, a breast cancer drug also used for infertility with fewer side effects

Every single month when I got my period I had a giant meltdown. I began to have the meltdowns in private because I knew my husband felt helpless and couldn't fix it. I began avoiding baby showers, and the happy announcements from friends and family that they were pregnant became daggers in my heart. I was happy for them, but I was so sad for us that I couldn't see through it. I felt like nobody, not even our closest friends or family, understood what we were going through. I felt like nobody else had ever dealt with it.

We decided to take a break for a few months from the hardcore work of trying to have a baby. It was eating away at me. I was at the OB again to discuss next steps, and she made an offhand comment that with my abdominal surgeries and the extraordinary amount of scar tissue she'd be worried about getting to a baby quickly (we already knew I'd have a C-section if we could get there). Then she said she had concerns about my ability to survive a pregnancy. She didn't say those words exactly, but that was the tenor. We knew if we could get there it'd be high risk and really hard on my body, but I really wanted to get pregnant.

She referred us to a fertility specialist where we'd discuss IVF and IUI and all the other fun acronyms. Something about it didn't feel right. I will never forget the moment I decided to stop trying to get pregnant. My husband and I were walking the dogs and he said, "I can live without a baby who is biologically ours. I can't live without you." I grieved the baby I would never carry. I knew adoption was our best option if we were going to have a family.

We decided to adopt and began the arduous process of picking an agency and deciding between domestic and international adoption. We chose Adoption Associates, and they were our guides through the tumultuous process. While it was overwhelming at first, I felt like we were finally doing something. It felt like the years of not being able to get pregnant were behind us, and we were being proactive.

I thought it would happen quickly. We finished all the paperwork and home visits in record time, and started the process of waiting. We set up a nursery. And we waited. About eighteen months into the wait we got the call: we were linked to a birth mother. We headed to the agency's Farmington Hills office and met this young woman who was already a mom to a 14 month old girl. She was having another girl in two weeks, and that little girl was going to be our daughter! I had friends buy us girl clothes. I washed and folded onesies. We bought and installed a car seat in my car. We named her. This was it. We were going to have a daughter!

The plan was that we would head to Ann Arbor when she went into labor and be there when the baby was born. We got the call on a Wednesday afternoon, and I left the office unable to concentrate. The case worker called and said labor can take a long time, so we should wait until we got the green light closer to the baby being born. I didn't sleep Wednesday night. 

On Thursday we were told the baby still hadn't arrived. My husband and I stayed home from work. We went to Home Depot. But there was a nagging sense that something was wrong. It didn't feel right. Then we got the call that she had changed her mind and decided not to do an adoption plan. It was crushing. We then did what any reasonable people would do: got insanely drunk and booked a weekend trip to Toronto.

In Toronto the weekend after a birth mom changed her mind. I look happy. Booze helps.
A year later I decided to broach the subject of IVF with my husband again. My previous proactive feeling had dissipated leaving me wondering if we were ever going to have a child. Before we could have that discussion I ended up spending a month in the hospital and having two abdominal surgeries and a blood clot. I knew definitively at that point that carrying a baby was a terrible idea for me. 

Exhibit A for why I should not have a baby biologically (summer 2014)
The wait was long - nearly three years. But we got the call again on a November afternoon. I was having lunch with a colleague and answered the phone. He knew before my husband. We were having a boy, and we had three weeks' notice. Because of our previous false start I didn't want to get my hopes up. We had everything ready to go, and on a Saturday morning in December, on our sixth wedding anniversary, we got the call. We drove an hour, and at 3:35 pm, when our son was two minutes old, they placed him in my arms.

Our first night in the hospital. So much love.
I have never and will never forget the pain of trying to have a baby both biologically and through adoption, but my nod to infertility awareness week is also a pro-adoption plea. At this point I can't imagine having created our family any other way.

A non-traditional baby shower when Will was three months old.
If I had gotten pregnant right away eight years ago I know I wouldn't have appreciated it like I do now. I would not have the patience. I would not have the same appreciation for the absolute blessing that is getting to be Will's mom. Despite its pain, infertility has made me a better mother, and for that I am grateful. 

Will's fist birthday
If you know someone who is trying to conceive, please be respectful. DO NOT say things like "God has a plan" and "it'll happen for you". Those sentiments may come from a good place, but they sound trite and insensitive to the want-to-be parents who are suffering. Realize when someone can't come to a baby shower or isn't thrilled at your pregnancy announcement that it's not because they don't feel joy for others. It's because that extraordinary pain outweighs the joy. 

Even now as the mom of a healthy toddler when I hear of someone getting pregnant quickly I feel bitter. I feel resentful. It's not because I'm not happy with my life, but it's because when I least expect it the pain of that struggle rises up and grabs my heart. If you're reading this and are struggling to have a family, I hurt for you. Cry when you need to cry. Drink when you need to drink. Avoid babies if you need to because I remember that feeling of not even being able to hold a baby because it hurt so much. Deal with it however you have to deal with it, and don't let people make you feel selfish. Those who love you will try to understand, but they may fail. And someday, whether your journey ends in a pregnancy, with an adoption plan or with a decision not to pursue any additional options, know that this pain will ultimately make you stronger. 

Our monkey at six months old. Heart. Explodes.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Finding Holy Redemption

I have a complicated relationship with religion. It's not something I talk about often, but my faith occupies a difficult space in my heart and psyche that is hard to explain. I grew up in a Southern Baptist home. We went to church on Sunday mornings, Sunday nights and Wednesday nights. We had evening devotionals in our house. I remember being probably five or six and my mom calling us into the living room for devotionals. I hated it because I was a kid and wanted to be playing or doing anything instead. I've been to revivals and heard more fire and brimstone sermons than I can count. I was terrified of sinning as a kid. As a perfectionist the idea of sinning is terrifying when you've listened to your preacher talk about all the ways you can go to Hell. 

I've read the Bible cover to cover several times. I memorized dozens of Bible verses and excelled at reciting them in Sunday School often to win prizes. I'm not sure if it was my faith so much as my desire to win prizes that helped me memorize scripture and the books of the Bible, but I do really love to win.

I was baptized on Valentine's Day in 1988 when I was nine years old. I remember it vividly including having to wear earplugs for my baptism because of my chronic ear infections. Southern Baptists get submerged in water; none of this wimpy sprinkling for the wicked. My mom told me later that people commented about how much I smiled during my baptism. 

When I was in junior high we started attending a Methodist Church in my hometown. It was much less fire and brimstone, and I loved it. I thrived in that church. I taught Sunday School for a few years. I went every Sunday with my mom and often drove back to my hometown (45 minutes one way) on Sundays to go to church with my mom when I was in college.

At some point there was a shift in my faith. I can't pinpoint a moment or event, and it was subtle. I was dating a guy who was Catholic in college, and we'd go to mass together when I wasn't going to church with my mom. The Catholic church could not be more different from the church in which I grew up. It's rigid and structured. You know the sequence of events no matter where you attend church. It feels familiar, and I began to identify with it. Unlike the churches I attended growing up Catholics don't seem to study the Bible the same way. As I went through RCIA (the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) I would ask questions about why certain prayers were said and asked a lot of "why". My priest was often exasperated by my questions. A lot of Catholics do things because that's merely how they are done. Even with some unanswered (or not answered to my satisfaction) questions, I still found myself identifying with Catholicism. This Easter marked 14 years since I converted.

My husband and I were married in the church. Our son was baptized as a Catholic. And yet my relationship with the Catholic Church has become complicated as well as my faith has been tested. Our wait to have a child really pushed the limits of my faith, and for the first time in my life I felt as if my conviction had abandoned me. Even the birth of my son didn't bring my faith back to that strong place where it had been much of my life. 

Maren Morris had a hit song last year with My Church. Her lyrics are that she feels the most spiritual when she's driving and listening to country music. I love that song because it's awesome but also because that's how I've felt about running the last few years. I feel more faithful and closer to God in those quiet moments on the trail than I do reciting prayers in church. Those quiet times when it's simply me and the miles I'm logging have become my church. 

It's been challenging the last few months when I haven't been able to run. I barely observed Lent this year. I've been frustrated by my health challenges, and instead of turning to faith I have ignored it. I haven't taken time to reflect, and as I get older I think that's what faith is about. It's not about what religion you practice or what building you visit on Sunday morning. It's about taking time to be mindful and pray and reflect no matter where you're doing it. It might be in your car or during a run or while you're in church saying the Lord's Prayer.

Last weekend we went to West Virginia to visit my mom for Easter weekend. Morgantown is always my happy place, and this weekend was no exception. We arrived late on Thursday, but on Friday morning I had to go for a run. I hit the Deckers Creek Trail, one of my favorite running routes anywhere.

When my dad was sick I logged lots of miles on the trail while training for the New York Marathon. Now it's where I feel closest to him and also closest to God. I actually found myself talking to my dad and praying out loud during my run. It was the best run I've had in months. It was great to tap into my faith again. 

Feeling peaceful after my run
On Sunday morning I attended church with my mom at her Methodist Church (a different church from the one I attended in high school and college). It could not possibly be more different than going to mass. It's relaxed and informal. Parishioners call out prayer requests and join the preacher at the altar for impromptu songs. At one point I found myself slightly impatient for the lack of structure.

But then we closed the service by singing some older hymns, hymns we don't sing in the Catholic church. Some of them I could sing with my eyes closed because I know them so well. As we began to sing the hymn He Lives, I felt tears come to my eyes. My mom and I sang the alto notes, and by the time we got to the chorus I struggled to keep it together. I'm not sure if it was attending church with my mom that made me emotional or some type of different divine intervention, but I'm not sure it matters. Who's to say both of those things aren't an important part of my faith?

Enjoying a beautiful sunset Easter weekend
It was a lovely Easter weekend, and I felt peaceful in a way I haven't in a really long time. I'm not sure my relationship with religion is less complicated than it was this time last week, but I do know it's important for me to look for holy redemption wherever it exists...and I don't always think that's the same place. 

This kid. 

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

I'll Mess with Texas

In my early 20s I lived in Killeen, Texas for about two years. It was the first time I'd lived away from home. I left my family and friends to move to a far away place where I knew exactly one person. It wasn't the last time I'd follow my heart to a geographically distant place, and I don't regret having done so. But it was a weird year of my life. I had recently been officially diagnosed with Crohn's Disease (after two misdiagnoses), and I was figuring it out. In fairness I'm still figuring it out, but it was brand new then. I left my law school to visit my third year at Baylor University. It was hard leaving my friends and law school support system. I was in a toxic relationship that only grew more toxic in the time I lived in Texas. Fifteen years later I look back at that time through a fog almost as if it didn't really happen. My tumultuous time in Texas, however, did result in my meeting some of my absolute best friends in the world. It's that time that led me last weekend to a girls' trip to Austin, a city I only vaguely remember as most of my time there was under the influence of alcohol.

One of my best girlfriends from my time in Texas turned 40 last week, and we headed to Austin to celebrate her birthday. I did something I haven't done in years: I did not pack running shoes. It was oddly disconcerting to not include running shoes or clothes - things that generally feel like another appendage. But running has not agreed with me lately. I'm on antibiotics, and they seem to be working (knock on wood). I don't want to jinx it.

I'll be honest: I think Austin is weird and not in the good weird way for which it wants to be known. I want to love it because everyone else seems to, but I just think it's okay. If I made a top ten list of cities in the U.S. I love, Austin certainly wouldn't be in it.* I had a really fun time, and my city evaluation of Austin isn't intended to be a knock on whether I enjoyed myself. It's simply when I think about what I love in cities, Austin doesn't do it for me.

First off there's the sprawl. It's hailed as the fastest growing city in the country, and it feels like it. I completely get that the other cities I love have sprawl, but Austin has started to feel insanely sprawly (not a real world but I'm going with it). It's downtown has really wide streets clogged with traffic. There's transit, but it feels like a half assed addition because it's something someone on city staff thinks they're supposed to have. It doesn't feel like a real transit system. I also realize these complaints apply to one of my favorite cities, Detroit (except for the existence of traffic downtown). The difference is Detroit has grit. Austin is quirky and expresses it in its slogan: Keep Austin Weird. The problem is the exponential growth makes it feel more conventional and less weird. Maybe that's why I saw so many shirts and signs that said "Make Austin Weird Again". 

If I'm being really honest I've never gotten Texas. When I lived there it felt flat and lonely, and it's never clicked with me. I love the feel of dense, tree-filled streets, and Austin feels barren (from a tree standpoint downtown and in some of the neighborhoods) and broad. 

Where I think Austin excels in its food scene, and I love food. It is a city with particularly excellent Mexican food and barbecue. If you've had either Mexican food or barbecue in Texas it ruins it for much of the rest of the world. I had melt in my mouth brisket last weekend at Terry Black's Barbecue. It was incredible.

The brisket was insane.
I had perfectly cooked duck at South Congress Cafe accompanied by delicious cocktails and wine. Austin does food well. The South Congress neighborhood is really adorable and quirky, but its wide streets are a bit of a buzzkill. 

Also I bought these on South Congress. Yee haw!
We had drinks at the beautiful, historic Driskell Hotel, and I had a perfectly balanced Boulevardier at the quirky Firehouse Lounge, a speakeasy accessed through a sliding bookcase in the lobby of hostel. We spent lots of time lounging by the pool and talking. It was a really fun weekend.

Looking fabulous after 15 years of friendship
I haven't seen or done it all in Austin,, so I reserve the right to change my mind as I visit it again (a likely prospect given that my BFF lives there). It was weird to not have my running shoes, and next time I go I definitely want to run downtown. It was a relaxing weekend with some of my favorite people, and even my cityphile pickiness can't ruin that for me. 

*Okay I had to make that top ten list of my fav U.S. cities just for fun:
1) Portland, Maine
2) Chicago
3) New York City
4) Portland, Oregon
5) Detroit
6) Boston
7) Washington, DC
8) Denver
9) Knoxville, TN
10) Pittsburgh