Archives for the month of: October, 2014

Black Hole, part 2

Living with infertility means having something you can’t quite diagnose. All you know is that your body is failing where everyone else seems to function as it should. To drive the stigma in further, many of us fall into the category of Unexplained Infertility: there is no reason for not getting pregnant. Boxes of ovulation kits, routine measurements of basal body temperature, malodorous herb tablets, and fancy yoga poses offer nothing for the loss month after month after month. My husband and I have never felt the thrill that purportedly comes with seeing two pink lines.

How do you move forward when there is no clear path? Is there any way to know what is going on?

On a good day, I am learning to see myself as a fragile ecosystem waiting for new life. I listen to what my insides crave (beets usually top the list), try to move when the muscles are feeling creaky, and sit down to read and write when the brain gets bored. In theory, I am to treat each month as though I’m pregnant by eating good food, exercising just enough, and keeping the stress down. Right. Have you seen Groundhogs Day? When we cannot move on we go a little crazy. Admittedly, in real life, I have fallen into the pattern I shall refer to as, Here we go, Again. It starts with a manhattan (the cocktail) on day 1 of my cycle. During the first week I have a couple small prayer tantrums with God before taking a deep breath to face the month ahead. The next couple weeks I do the things I’m supposed to do, try to hold off on feeling anything, say a few prayers for conception, and generally attempt to be a decent human being at work. The last week is the most difficult as I vacillate between hopefulness and despair. Every cramp, every stomach ache is scrutinized, then found utterly inconclusive. As the final days tick by, I prepare for the cycle to end and, sure enough, like clockwork, the blood flows and a new cycle begins.

Recently, we visited family in Denver. Having only been there a few times now, it is still a foreign place to me. In one direction there are the mountain peaks, jagged yet comforting in how they break up the horizon. The other direction is a straight line to eternity, which I find exceedingly unnerving. With little water and thin air, I can’t help but wonder how people survive, let alone go jogging and cycling and skiing. On the flight home at the sight of Mount Rainier I become acutely aware of having the sense of holding my breath for days. Back at sea level, I drink the air like one who swore off booze for Lent and is taking in an aged scotch on Easter Sunday. How blessed are we to live in creation’s luxury suite. Family visits are both great fun and a sharp reminder that we have not been able to contribute much but ourselves to the gatherings. There are no baby introductions, no generational photo shoots. It’s just us. When questions or comments come up about kids, all we can do is smile, look down, and fake some sort of non-response. God knows… (and he sure as hell isn’t telling us).

We are nearing the end of how long we feel capable of waiting, so I can’t help but think about it more. For so many women, they don’t have to ponder long the question of motherhood, it is simply part of the settlement package: spouse, home, dog, child (often in that order). It is only natural to pass on the legacy of mother-daughter shopping holidays, cupcakes for classrooms, and other family rituals. Yet, for some of us, it is a great stretch of the imagination to place ourselves in the role of parent. Throughout my 20s I was never certain about marriage–if or when I could cut it–so I didn’t dare to think about having children. It is one thing to be a vulnerable, loving, human-in-relationship at a peer/spousal level; entirely other to be vulnerable yet authoritative, loving, human-in-relationship with small, developing human. Do I trust myself to be a (good) mother? Frankly, no. But it seems like an important step to do so.

Each month I have prayed that now would be the time. And each month I feel the air get a little thinner as we journey towards God-knows-what. Barren surroundings appear straight through to the horizon, and the only springs seem to be my grief. But I have this hope:

Happy are those whose strength is in you,
in whose heart are the highways to Zion.
As they go through the valley of Baca [weeping]
they make it a place of springs;
the early rain also covers it with pools.
They go from strength to strength;
the God of gods will be seen in Zion
.
~Psalm 84:5-7

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It began one dark and stormy night. We had just left a friend’s house, and it was raining as only November can in Seattle. We missed a tricky turn in the road and our hearts froze as the right front hubcap slammed into the curb. The side road makes a sharp curve to the left as it meets the main drag, and with no markings, and very little visibility, we fell right onto the curb. There was enough damage to make us cringe, but at least we could carefully limp the car home.

That was the first holiday season of waiting. Sure, it was great to enjoy wine with friends and, especially, with family, but we had hoped to be in an Advent season of our own. Instead, I learned to expect nothing more than another cycle of bad news. Weeks went by, the car needed even more attention, and the storms shifted inward. When it wasn’t the car, something else would come up. We got quiet, and it was difficult to celebrate other people’s joys.

2013 was a difficult year for a great many folks, so we knew we weren’t alone in that regard. But we didn’t know anyone else who was facing this. Shit, we didn’t even know what this was. We told a few people about our struggle. They listened, and I know they’ve been praying for us. It seems everyone knows someone who has had a difficult time. But, as the story goes, after x years of waiting, they started to adopt, or maybe it was after the third IUI that did it; after they had completely given up, then it happened. And they all live happily ever after. I know these stories are meant to encourage, but when going through the black hole of infertility, they may as well be set somewhere over the milky way. Any glimmer of hope flickers and dies each month. Meanwhile, every time I walk outside, inevitably I pass at least one pregnant lady, two strollers, and a guy with the baby front-pack. My husband didn’t believe me when I swore there was a higher number of baby/pregnant lady sightings than previous years. Maybe he’s right, perhaps I’m a bit sensitive to the whole thing.

 

When I first started to learn about infertility, the stats said 1 in 8 couples; the other day I saw 1 in 7. Maybe more of us are dragging our sad feet into fertility clinics to be counted. After two years we finally went to one. Four months later, I started acupuncture. Numb desperation continues to propel me towards…God knows what.

We decided early on not to go through major treatments like IVF. Even after learning that my insurance would cover one round of IUI or IVF, the most we’ve done is diagnostic work with a few rounds of Letrozole (an alternative to Chlomid). When my husband went to the clinic for his part he was acutely aware of how distressed the women seemed, particularly as they came out of the treatments, and he couldn’t bear the thought of putting me through such an ordeal. Infertility is becoming as much a part of the medical industrial complex as, say, cosmetic surgery it seems. (Not that those two are on par.) Medical science knows next to nothing about unexplained infertility, but once you enter the clinic doors they will loop you in further and further—one more round of x, another shot of hormones—until your body obeys, or caves. When that doesn’t work, we end up at the Asian medical clinics. Thousands of years can’t be wrong, right?

Quite deliberately, we have not tried everything. Is that evidence that we don’t want a family of our own ‘badly’ enough? So be it. From the beginning, I have prayed for God’s faithful timing. I waited a long time to meet the man I married, so miracles do happen. I have no doubt that God is the ultimate source of life. I have also been plagued with thoughts of ‘am I doing enough?’ But that’s part of the black hole of infertility. I could spend the next three months catching up on all the literature on infertility and be no more enlightened. I have not worked closely with doctors in part because that quickly gets expensive. While Asian medicine addresses aspects of our health that Western medicine doesn’t see, Western medicine can check (albeit somewhat uncomfortably) for more overt blockages and issues. Trying to make a decision about which one to go with, and when, seems to be dictated just as much by finances as anything else.

 

But here’s where I get hung up: supposedly, I have an ‘in’ of sorts with the God of the universe, the Creator and Source of all Life. So, what does one do with that? Obviously, Christians suffer like anyone else. To think otherwise is to build a set of hubris wings and start flying closer to the sun. But the question I’ve been trying to formulate this whole time has to do with how belief in / a relationship with the Creator and Triune God orients my husband and I in the midst of all this. Will a turning towards faith conversely be a turning away from medical solutions? What does faith in the God who heals look like? Unlike other emotional challenges, infertility isn’t something where we can put together a plan for healing and growth, meet with our counselor or life coach, and measure our progress with SMART goals. Something like that can only happen once the dream for a little person is laid to rest. As we are right now, we encounter grief anew each month.

I share this with you, dear reader, because perhaps you know someone who struggles with infertility, and you are not sure what to say. Or perhaps you are at this moment engulfed in the black hole of infertility yourself. Do not recite platitudes of empty hope. I think, I believe, we must dig deep into the grief, the loss, the desire for new life–that is where our hope lies. Desire for new life, and the accompanying ache when it goes unfulfilled, brings us very near to the heart of God who creates, sustains and restores. The God of the universe longs for the day when all things will be made new. The black hole of infertility allows us to share in that longing. This is a mystery.

….

Black Hole, part 2
Black Hole, part 3