Eli's Corner


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thank you.

It’s funny the things that stand out in your mind as anniversaries. The markers on this meandering road are different for everyone. For me, Halloween was a marker. It was a marker because last year, I was participating in the Pumpkin Smackdown Challenge hosted by Barren Betty and Fertility Doll. I was reeling between disappointments, still in the throes of the battle, and that simple pumpkin carving contest was seriously a lifeline for me. Feeling connected with other women who were in this with me, getting a chance to poke fun at my disease using the pumpkin as a medium and seeing the creativity and genius of fellow IF bloggers as they transformed simple squash into humorous, often poignant depictions of their frustrations, hopes and disappointments. Then there was the added thrill of winning in my category and having a proper certificate and prize mailed to me from another continent. As pitiful as it sounds, that really meant a lot to me. I didn’t feel like I had an awful lot going for me at that point, and it was wonderful to feel seen, acknowledged, and in a way, looked after by other women in this boat.

I was not in a place where I would dare to dream that this Halloween I’d be trying to find cheeky ways to dress up my bitty bump, but that I’d ultimately come home from work and just zonk out because of pregnancy tiredness and skip the parties and costumes, watching the Corpse Bride as a nod to what day it was and getting myself and my peach-sized baby in bed by 9. I still can’t believe that I get to be here.

Thinking back on last Halloween got me thinking a bit about what this community has meant to me. Like many of you, I came here not expecting to find a community but simply looking for a place to vent. What I found was the one place I could be truly honest about how I was feeling, how much I was hurting, how desperately I wanted this, and how weak I was in the middle of it all. What I never found – not once – was judgement. I did not find unhelpful advice or empty assurances that everything would be fine. I only found understanding. Only space to be where I was.

And I found you and your stories. With parallels to my own – stories and lives I could actually relate to. I found hope in all of you – that even if nothing worked as I hoped or planned, I could still be resilient and strong, still me, still awesome. I could grab life – even if only what was left of it – and make it my bitch. Because I saw you doing it. I saw you go through deep and painful things and get up and try again over and over and over. I saw you hold to your faith, to yourselves. I became involved. I saw you hurting, and I hurt with you. I felt your victories just as strongly.

I found the closest thing I’ve found so far to a silver lining. One likes to try to find meaning – anything redemptive in this process – and hearing from people now and again that my working things out on the page had resonated with or somehow helped them made me feel a little better about being in this shitty process.

Now I’m just going all intense here – but I didn’t grow up in a family that was super good at relationships, and belonging doesn’t come easy to me. But I think I found a little bit of home here. And I just want to thank you for the thousand little ways you’ve helped brighten my path and carry my load the last couple of years here. You are luminous, courageous, vulnerable, strong, and deeply maternal – if justice were the dominant force in the world, none of you would be here, but it has been a mercy to people like me to be here with you.

Much love,

Eli

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another kick in the gut

I haven’t written any updates in a while, as I’ve been taking my first self-imposed break from babymaking since November 2011.  I was going to write a post about how awesome it is to not take a thousand supplements and vitamins everyday.  To not have a single fertility-related appointment for an entire month.  To drink wine and not have guilt and to not have sex when you’re ovulating because frankly, you’re not in the mood.  And then to have fabulous sex a few days later just because of sex.  How you start to feel like a person again, rather than a mere vessel, and you find yourself making time for other pursuits, pursuits that make you feel a little more like you again.  This was going to be a whole post about that.  But then yesterday happened.

I was very much enjoying my time off, so much so that I was contemplating extending it.  I had in my mind that I would let my ovaries rest up for the holidays and would just enjoy personhood during that time.  If I felt like having sex while ovulating, I would.  If not, I wouldn’t.  There was a vague thought of doing IVF in January.  But I didn’t need to think about that now.  In the midst of this heady freedom, however, I remembered that my RE gets booked up months in advance, and I thought I had better call and set something up now for January.  Come to find out, she was already booked through January, but she had a cancelation yesterday.  So I broke my “no babymaking appointments” rule and headed over with my husband to talk about next steps.

My acupuncturist/doctor of chinese medicine advised me to get my AMH tested a while ago, based on the fact that my mom had her last period in her mid-30s.  I talked to my RE about this, and she said that it was unlikely to be an issue in my case, since I respond pretty well to fertility drugs.  I pushed the issue, and she obliged me and ordered the test.  I had the requisition sitting on my desk for months, expecting one of the IUI treatments to work and for the whole ovarian reserve thing to become a non-issue.  After my fourth IUI failed, however, I got the bloodwork  done.  This was over a month ago, so one of my first questions was if those results were in.  She hadn’t even checked.  I asked if she could please look and pull them up.  She reiterated that she didn’t think it was an issue, but when she did pull them up, she was visibly shocked.

My AMH level is 0.47 – which, if you’re not familiar with AMH levels, isn’t even inside the low range for a woman of my age.  She started to brush past it and talk about IVF, saying that since I respond to drugs well, this doesn’t really matter.  I stopped her and asked what this meant in terms of early menopause.  She just said flat-out, you will have an early menopause.  You probably have a year or two before you lose fertility.

I’ve had a handful of moments in my life where I’ve received news that kicked the world into slow motion.  This was one of them.  Clearly, this wasn’t a total shock to me, as I was worried enough about it to press the issue and get the test, but having that nagging base-level fear confirmed was like a punch in the gut.  Then we continued talking as if someone had not just taken a decade of childbearing years away from me with one sentence.

Suddenly turning 35 next month (which I was half-dreading, half-grieving) was a non-issue, since in reproductive years I’m already about 46. This of course also means I’m on my very last eggs right now, which from everything I’ve come to understand, is not a good thing in terms of the chances of bringing a healthy baby to term.

The plan now is to kick off the IVF process in January.  I’m realizing I don’t have time for this not to work, don’t have time for another miscarriage.  The window is closing, the stakes are getting higher, and the hits just keep coming.  The list of ways in which my body betrays me continues to grow.  The sense that I’m broken, defective is hard to shake.

The odds of my having a child (let alone children, as I had once hoped) are moving solidly into the “miracle” category…a place where I am uncomfortable leaving them, not because I don’t believe that God can do it…I just don’t know if he will do it.  I have no assurances to that effect.  I told my therapist recently that I know I will be able to move on with my life if this doesn’t happen, but at this point I just have no idea how.  I’m terrified at the thought of picking myself back up after losing all hope of this dream – having that door solidly shut, possibly very soon.  At the same time, it would probably take full-blown menopause to give me the closure I would need to ever be able to walk away from this, so in some sense, there is some comfort in knowing this process won’t last forever.  It’s a small comfort, though.

I’m trying to trust, but I’m finding it almost impossible.  I know that by entertaining worst-case scenarios, I’m only adding to my own torment, but I just don’t have that solid faith that I used to.  If I get my miracle, I’ll be like the guy who was dragged to Jesus on a mat by his friends.  I’m hoping it’s enough.


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apart from this, i am

I spend a lot of time on here talking about who I am in the context of infertility, loss, endometriosis, chronic pain, a floundering career and various other issues. I appreciate this space, because I feel like it’s the one place where I can be as honest as I want to be about all of that.

But today, I’m doing something else. I’m taking some time to think about who I am independently of all of those things – as well as past pain and personal hangups –independently of any thing I would call an “issue.”

It’s so easy to identify with the hard things, and sometimes so hard to remember what’s left. So I just sat down and started writing a list, with general, timid terms at first, but they became a bit more confident and specific as the list progressed. Just for kicks, here it is:

So who is Eli, apart from all of this?

She loves to laugh.

She finds people interesting.

She’s compassionate.

She can be thoughtful.

She can be fun.

She’s good with words.

She doesn’t like conflict, but she enjoys a good debate (as long as nobody’s getting hurt or being super obnoxious).

She feels like culture is mostly crazy, and she wants to talk some sense into it.

She longs for truth.

She loves stories.

She loves to sing, mostly in private – although for a couple of years she sang lead in a heavy metal band because some boys at the high school where she worked as an administrator were looking for a lead singer for their band and asked her (possibly as a joke). She shocked them by saying yes. She always wore heels and a grey pantsuit when performing. The band achieved legend status.

She is the friend who will pay full price (even though she’s currently out of a job) to join you, your daughter, your unstable, recently-bereaved mother, and your alcoholic grandmother on a 2-week cruise when you have been ditched at the altar two weeks before the wedding and can’t get a refund on your honeymoon. She will go on that trip and sit in the middle of all that crazy with you.  She will sneak away with you to pound tequila shots.  If you eat 3 desserts, so will she.  She will even sing cruise lounge karaoke when you ask her to.

Frivolous beauty brings her joy. And makes her cry.

Mistreatment of the weak makes her angry. Like mama grizzly angry.

Sometimes she writes letters to celebrities she thinks are screwing up their lives and offers to let them come stay with her for a couple weeks. She thinks she could help. They never write back.

She likes nice things. And she likes to give nice things away.

She likes being around small children. She likes the purity of their interactions with the world, having not yet learned to stifle and mask everything they think and feel. She feels that children and very old people are lucky in that sense. They get to say exactly what they think.

Sometimes, she can be wise.

Sometimes, she can be funny.

Sometimes, she knows exactly what to say or do in a tough situation.

She believes people matter. She feels that especially young girls don’t know that they matter nearly enough.

She will stand in the path of a violent, heavily drugged man on the street (even though she’s very much expecting to be hit) because she doesn’t want to live in a city where people can be brutally attacked by a stranger in broad daylight and have their attacker walk away unencumbered while fifty spectators step aside to let him pass. She, in her heels, slacks and fluffy sweater, will be the one person to calmly stand in his way and tell him that he does not get to run away but must stay here and deal with what he has done. And for some strange reason, he will listen to her.

She’ll buy a homeless woman lunch because she really wants to buy her flowers but thinks it’s a jerk move to give a hungry person flowers and not also lunch.

She has little respect for people she thinks are phony, no matter what position they hold.

She just generally has a pretty low tolerance for BS.

She’s attracted to honesty, even if it’s honesty about unattractive things.

She’s attracted to humility.

She’s always been a sucker for a boy with a guitar, and she eventually married one.

She loves, loves, loves that she gets to see her quiet husband be crazy, goofy, brilliant, irreverent, and just straight up weird in a way that no one else on the planet ever does.

She is reborn every time she feels the warmth of the sun on her skin.

She likes the laugh lines she’s getting, but is not too fond of the sun spots.

Beautiful, clean spaces are balm to her soul.

She roofed houses to pay for college.

Every once in a while, she will embark on a crazy adventure that takes a great deal of courage. She hasn’t done this in a little while, but it’s in her.

She left a good chunk of her heart with a poor family in Argentina who loves her better than most people can probably love anybody.

She can pretty much quote entire Disney cartoons as well as chapters of the Bible.

She does a bang-on southern belle accent.

She thinks she looks good naked, if she’s very honest.

She’s willing to change when she learns she’s been wrong, even if it’s hard.

I kind of like her.

Who are you apart from this? I’d love to know.


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the other losses

This whole process puts such an enormous strain on relationships – even the ones you thought were unshakable. In the past month, I’ve gone through this with my two closest friends. It’s brutal. I think these friendships will emerge intact, but they will be changed.

H2 was my maid of honor, and I was hers. She had two miscarriages in the past couple of years, and she was a tremendous support to me in mine. This last pregnancy she had was fraught with difficulty, but her baby made it. He’s been in the NICU for about 3 months, and he’s still not ready to go home, but he’s defied all the odds a baby born at 24 weeks faces and is (in my mind, anyway) a bona fide miracle child.

I know it must be so hard for her to not have him at home, to be able to hold him, feed him, tuck him in at night. I’ve tried my best to support her. I found a place online that sells micro preemie clothes and sent her some. In those early days, I wanted her to have something that was specifically for THIS child, not potentially for some later child who might have better chances. As weeks went by, though, it became less clear how to be supportive, but I made my awkward attempts. We live in different countries, and we communicate mostly by text now, so it’s not like it’s been in years past. Somewhere in there it all blew up. I got a cutting message from her that I was saying the wrong things. I was livid, as I felt like I was giving her the best I could and had been sucking it up forever that she was telling me the wrong things.

At the end of the day, after a few explanatory emails were exchanged, what I think is that we were each giving each other what we ourselves needed…in my case, it was acknowledgement. I was working hard at demonstrating to her that I understood that what she is going through must be so painful. I even felt like acknowledging this was an expression of love to her, a sacrifice on my part, because, despite all of this, she has not one but three living children. And this last little one, who looked for all the world like he wouldn’t pull through, is actually going to make it. I feel like she’s incredibly fortunate, even though this is hard. I’ve never had a living baby out in the world. I don’t know what it’s like. So I tried to imagine what it must be like to have your baby be alive but not with you, and to sympathize. But she was well in touch with the hard part, and she didn’t need to be reminded of it. My efforts were only rubbing in her face what was already so difficult.

She, meanwhile, was giving me what she needed: hope. Looking at the bright side. Focusing on what’s going well. Telling me things are not that bad, that they will get better. But what she doesn’t understand about what I deal with is that I don’t have a baby in the hospital that I can post pictures of. I don’t have a single thing to point to to say “this is why I hurt.” I have an invisible disease, and I have an absence. People don’t relate to those things. They don’t remember them. Or if they do, they just have no idea how to talk about them. So nothing is said and nothing is done, and the world marches on. What I actually don’t need is for people to look in the bright side. I just need someone to sit in the dark with me.

So while my heart is crying out for someone to please acknowledge that what I am experiencing is real, she is making light of it. And while she is desperately needing to look forward to good things, I’m harping on the hard thing. And we’re both busy and exhausted and keeping our heads above water and accidentally hurting each other while we’re trying to help.

We emailed back and forth and settled it at this: We love each other. We’ll sort this out. Later. We’re too maxed out with our respective situations and our life circumstances to sort it out at the moment, but we will sort it out. We’re just putting everything on pause. I don’t have to be her cheerleader at the moment, even though I’m trusting she knows in my heart I’m wishing her and her little boy every good thing. And she doesn’t have to be my confidant, but I’m trusting that when the dust settles, we’ll be able to find each other again. I wish we each had the capacity to be there for each other during what are rough times for both of us, but we just don’t.

Then there’s the other friend, the one I was pregnant with – a year and a half ago, we were incredibly close and had everything in common. We worked together, got pregnant about the same time, even got laid off on the same phone call. Then she had a baby boy, and I lost mine. She’s now a full-time mom, and I work with my husband in a field unrelated to the work we used to do together. If we’re honest, we have little to talk about. We try, but it’s hard. I find it particularly hard. I finally had a clear-the-air talk with her about it – because I felt like she deserved my honesty and not some kind of fake pretendy thing where we all act like nothing’s going on. She told me she understood if I needed distance, and she wouldn’t take it personally, but she wasn’t giving up on this friendship. I appreciated that.

She was also a bastion of hope and positivity, bowling me over with her enthusiasm and certainty that I WILL have children. Part of me feels glad that somebody feels that way, because I certainly don’t feel it anymore, but part of me just wants to say, “Here’s the thing –  just because it worked for you doesn’t mean it must work for me – that the score has to be evened out somehow. We might need to live with this dissonance.”

I didn’t say that though, and then she told me my least favorite story – the one about the friend who went to go adopt a baby and suddenly got pregnant. (EVERYBODY has a friend who has that story…don’t even get me started on that story…) I ended up telling her that sometimes closure is kinder than hope.

I realized while speaking with her that I’m not giving up on hope, but my hope cannot be that I will be able to have a child. Because when it comes down to it, the universe does not owe me a child. Neither does God.  My hope has to be that no matter what happens, I will be able to embrace my life. Whether I have my own kids, somebody else’s kids or no kids, I have to believe – even to swear to myself – that I will be ok.  And even though there’s some bitterness now, I have to believe I will be able to adjust and not live in the shadow of what “should” have been.

This transference of hope is, I think, wise. But I also know there’s an element of self-protection in there. Hope makes everything so much harder. But now as I find myself in my fourth (and quite possibly last) round of IUI, I feel a little like a robot walking through the steps. I’ve promised myself I’d take the holidays off if this doesn’t work, so I’m almost just gritting my teeth and holding my breath until I can get a break for a couple of months. But I’m remembering the innocence of that first IUI attempt, how I was wanting to make my soul and my body a welcoming place to host a new life. And I miss that. I want to engage. But I’m so beat up right now.

And the people who have helped carry me in the past are not able to walk this with me now. I’m finding myself praying more, hoping that God will be able to pick up where they left off. Hoping that this works, hoping that I’ll be ok if it doesn’t. Hoping that of all the things that are lost in this process, I am not one.


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circle of life and that sort of thing

Last weekend was odd.

We were in my husband’s hometown to attend a funeral. His aunt, a woman in whose company one could not help but feel loved and important, a woman with a simple and staunch faith and a glint of mischief in her eye, a woman I liked instantly, passed away from a heart attack.

While we were still driving out, his parents were attending her internment in 32-degree heat. His father got dizzy and fell. His sister had experienced dizziness shortly before her heart attack. His other siblings insisted that he go to the emergency room, where he ended up waiting for over 8 hours.

When I married, I got a fairy godmother. My husband’s parents have a successful business, and his mom happens to be one of the most thoughtful and generous people I’ve met. And not just with money – last year she gave a kidney to a stranger.  No joke.  Anyway, she booked us all in the best place in town for the weekend so we could get some family vacation time since we were all together for the funeral anyway. This is not really relevant to the story except I just wanted to say a girl who grew up eating 99-cent whoppers and day-old prison food could do worse than check into a 5-star resort and be told, “there is a note on your reservation that all charges will be taken care of.”

Once we got settled and said hello to my sister-in-law and her toddler, my husband went to the emergency room to wait with his parents to get the heart x-ray results.

I stayed at the hotel to nurse an astronomical headache, a fit of exhaustion and some truly heinous endometriosis cramps. (I had spent much of the 4 ½ hour drive out there laying as flat as possible with a hoodie over my head to block out the light.)

The sweet girl who brought me room service seemed perplexed that I was sitting alone in my fancy room on a Friday night without the man I checked in with.

She asked how my evening was going.

I said it was about to get better.

She was visibly relieved and said, “Oh good! Are you going out?”

I looked at her dumbly and said, “No, I am going to eat this.”

I saw her face quickly recalibrate as she realized we were dealing with two very different thresholds of “better.” She regrouped and enthusiastically told me that this was practically her favorite thing on the menu. “A” for effort, anyway.

Incidentally, it did make it better.

better.

better.

They didn’t find anything wrong with my father-in-law, although he’s still limping, which has us all a little concerned. The funeral was simple and sweet. And despite the fact that I barely knew this woman, I cried a fair bit. Partly remembering my dad’s funeral. Partly PMS. Partly seeing how much this woman meant to her children and grandchildren. Wondering if I would ever have that chance. Wondering, as more people in our lives become immersed in their own family units, pushing us “extras” to the periphery, if anybody would ever miss us that much. Morbid thoughts, but they’re part of this whole thing, aren’t they?

I felt a little better the next day. We taught my new brother-in-law how to play Rook (a Mennonite must), and we all took our just-turned-2-year-old niece out on a speed boat for the first time. She even got into the inner tube in between mommy and daddy, and despite how carefully my husband was driving, they capsized and briefly went under water. I panicked for a second – she’s been in swimming lessons since birth and they were all wearing life jackets – but it was still a little terrifying. My father-in-law had been adamantly opposed to any of us going out in a boat, citing the many dangers of it over and over. He himself refused to come. I was beginning to wonder if we’d all proved him right. Fortunately, she bounced right back above the water unfazed. We all quickly made a pact to not mention it to grandpa. For her part, my niece covered for us nicely, repeating at various intervals throughout the remainder of the day, “Boat. Nice.”  Think we might have a bit of an adrenaline junkie on our hands.  Poor grandpa.

We came home to our empty apartment, and my husband mentioned that there was something life-giving about having people around you all the time, and he wished we had more of it. I told him that’s why people have kids. He said, “Oh yeah. We should do that.”