Tuesday, May 20, 2014

How to Get Pregnant When You're 39

I'm feeling the need to testify.  In grad school, my friends and I would go to the local baseball games and be endlessly amused by the guy hawking drinks, hot dogs, and peanuts.  After you bought something from him (I think his name was William?), he would tell you to "testify" that his drinks were the coldest and his hot dogs were the hottest.  He was awesome.  I need to testify now about an entirely different matter, but it's hard not to bring up William any time any testifying happens.

This testifying is how I got pregnant (and stayed pregnant) at age 39 without any spectacular means. 

There's a lot of talk about fertility among the older set these days, and by older, I mean late thirties/early forties - in other words, 39-year-olds like me.

In the last few years, pop superstar awesomeness Gwen Stefani delivered her third child at age 43 and Halle Berry delivered her second child at age 47, but since we recognize this is as somewhat unusual, we might question just how they got their aging uteruses to work so youthfully.  There's the possibility of the intervention of science, but there's also the possibility that they are genetically blessed people whose female parts are defying the laws of nature which tells us that women become less fertile as they approach age 39.

There's that number.  39.  My number.  Last year, the Atlantic published a fabulous article on the myth of infertility at age 35.  I highly recommend reading it.  But even that article which gives hope to ages 30 through 38, recognizes that a real decrease in fertility begins at age 39.  Again, my age.

So here's how I got pregnant at age 39 without IVF, without Clomid, and without breaking the bank.

After our second miscarriage last year, my husband and I sat in an OB/GYN'S office while the doctor ruthlessly and carelessly discussed our loss.  He came in to the office after making us wait an hour after our appointment, didn't bother introducing himself to my husband, and then looked down at my chart for about five silent minutes.  "Yes, the tests confirm a miscarriage," he announced as if I didn't already have ample evidence.  (Miscarriages are not quiet events.  One knows when one has had one).  Then this doctor went on to explain that given my age, I would have difficult getting pregnant because my eggs were essentially not good anymore.  He recommended a fertility specialist.

We left the office feeling worse than when we came in.  Some doctors have that special gift of making a difficult experience even worse.  This doctor was so gifted.

In the next week, I called and made an appointment with the fertility specialist and received a form in the mail that we were to fill out and return before our appointment.  But as I went over the form which asked all sorts of questions about what we were willing to pursue in order to grow our family, I realized I wasn't comfortable with any of the options set out for us.  As a Catholic in my late 30s, I cannot flaunt a perfect record in the department of sexual activity, but I do have this going for me -- I have never been on the Pill.  Again, my particular road to where I am now is spotted with missteps and self-administered blinders, but after all my sins, I have always tried to figure out how to return to and lead a healthy, Godly sexual life.  Admittedly, that's a lot easier when you're married.

So as a married, Catholic woman who tries to let God run the show, I knew I couldn't pursue the fertility specialist.  I just wasn't comfortable with it.  God wouldn't let me get comfortable with it.  And what's more, the more we thought about it, the more unreasonable the OB sounded.  After all, I didn't have a problem with fertility.  I conceive almost immediately upon trying.  It's the carrying the baby to full term I couldn't seem to make happen.

I hit the Internet and searched high and low for information on natural fertility.  I read everything I could find on diet and supplements and stress and exercise and all the other things that probably do help to make a more livable environment for a baby.  I went on a gluten-free diet, I tried cocktails of vitamins and supplements.  But nothing really changed until I found a site about Catholic fertility which introduced us to the Creighton Model.

The Creighton Model is a natural reproduction approach that gives women (and their partners) information on how their particular cycle is working (or not working).  After finding an new OB/GYN in Fort Wayne who practices the Creighton Model, my husband and I were on our way.

My first meeting with Dr. Christopher Stroud, our new OB/GYN, was intensely cathartic.  He reviewed my chart, listened to me talk about the previous doctor, and told me, "I wish all woman came in here with your 'problems.'  All due respect to (unnamed other doctor), but he's wrong.  I deliver babies all the time to women in their forties."

There's a common phrase in Catholic conversation I should introduce here: "Contraceptive Culture," which means we live in a culture that treats fertility as a problem that needs to be fixed.  That's hard to argue as I've treated it that way for a goodly portion of my life as well.  But here's Dr. Stroud telling me that he delivers babies to women in what is supposed to be their post-fertility years all the time while my previous doctor says he sees infertility and miscarriage all the time in the same set of women.  The difference?  As a doctor who advertises his Catholicism, Dr. Stroud sees a lot of Catholic women who have never treated their fertility as a problem.  Fort Wayne, Indiana is a really Catholic town.  There are a whole lot of huge Catholic families here and Dr. Stroud's delivered a whole lot of those babies.  It's no wonder his experience varies so widely from other doctors.

So my husband and I started the Creighton Model classes which taught us how to chart my cycle.  Over the next three months, what the particular biomarkers would reveal is the why behind "infertility, repetitive miscarriage, abnormal bleeding, recurrent ovarian cysts, pelvic pain, premenstrual syndrome, etc …"

Once we determined my particular problem, in the words of my doctor, "profoundly low progesterone," and since we knew exactly when that occurred in my cycle because of my observed biomarkers, we were able to move forward with conceiving with confidence which we did immediately and which resulted in an already sort of huge four-months-pregnant me.

Total cost of Creighton Model classes?  Around $60.  Compare that to the cost of other fertility treatments which are not always effective, are often more invasive, and which are certainly more costly.

Using the Creighton Model, "76% of couples achieve pregnancy during the first cycle.  For couples with infertility, the overall pregnancy rate runs approximately 20 to 40% during the first six months."

I know the Creighton Model is not the answer for everyone.  I have dear friends who have benefited from other treatments and who have beautiful children as a result and that is nothing more than awesome.  I wouldn't deny them those pursuits for the world.  All I will say is that this is what worked for us and I needed to testify.

Lots of non-religious people are using the Creighton Model now either because they can't afford other treatments or they want to try a different approach.  This is me testifying, which, for the record, is not a very Catholic thing to do.  But still, William, I'm inspired by you.  I just had to testify!






Thursday, May 15, 2014

Once More Into the Fray with Hyperemesis Gravidarum

That I'm insane goes without saying.  Why I would voluntarily choose to risk Hyperemesis Gravidarum yet again in the pursuit of another child can only be chalked up to a mind that is not right.

And the truth is my mind has not been right for many months now.  A brief reminder for those who might be in the dark, Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG) is severe, out-of-control, life-threatening (if untreated) condition less than 3% of pregnant women suffer from.  The vomiting and debilitating nausea do not stop - not even for an hour - for weeks and weeks and often months and months on end.

Friends, it is a very, very difficult thing to live through.  This is my second time getting to the other side of HG.  The vomiting has stopped, the nausea is almost entirely gone.  Other symptoms persist - ashy-taste of many foods, sensitivity to smells … but all in all, the worst is gone.

And yet, I can't seem to leave it behind.  I find it difficult talking to people whose lives have been normal over the past few months.  I've used the analogy of being a soldier who has returned from the war traumatized while everyone else has continued living their mostly peaceful lives.

I wish I could explain it to people and yet I'm grateful they don't understand.  To you few girlfriends who have suffered through this, sometimes it's hard to think about you because it makes me hurt and vulnerable in places that are still so broken.  I wish none of us understood it, feared its return, were scarred from the dark place it takes us.

The facts this time around:

  • 8 days in hospital
  • 4 weeks and counting of homebound, couch bound care from home health nurses
  • 3-4 weeks of Feeding Tube (Total Parentral Nutrition (TPN)) via a PIC line threaded from my arm to my heart
  • Hydration in arm for longer than TPN
  • Incalculable volume of Zofran, Phenergan, Reglan, Visterol pumped into my system every two hours night and days for months
  • Husband, mother, and mother-in-law exhausted, overburdened, helpless up every two hours to administer meds for months
  • Frightened four-year-old son asking every morning how I'm feeling
  • Trillion-billion = weight in fear pressing down on me that it will return any given second
Friends have asked if this pregnancy was better than my first.  There's no "better" when it comes to HG.  You just try to survive it.  It's like ranking versions of hell.  This hell is taking longer than the last hell to go away, but when you're in hell, time is meaningless so it's difficult to explain.  I can only tell you that I have prayed that God counts this toward purgatory.  That's not a joke.  He must.  Purgatory could not be harder than endless nausea pinning your stomach down in a suffering that makes it impossible to understand how you could survive from one moment to the next.

Being this sick twice has made me more religious even while it has made me question the shape of God.  I will probably never forgive the juxtaposition of suffering and purpose and people who say "God is not doing this to you" and "He is trying to teach you something" in the same breadth.  It's one or the other.  He either is responsible or He's not.  And I can be mad about that, but what I also know more fundamentally than the me who had not suffered that much is that I need Him to be real.  I need the comfort in the darkest moments that even it was Him putting me through that, I was not alone.  And because of that knowledge and need, since Atticus, I have found it more difficult to really engage with friends who don't have God in their lives.

People have said to me that it's all worth it once you hold that baby in your arms.  And implicitly, I must believe that or I wouldn't have done this again, but I still want people to stop saying it.  It exposes a horrible ignorance and insensitivity to the hell of HG.  HG can take more than it gives.  This one might have taken more.  Or I might still be too close to it to have a positive comment.  Probably the latter.  Nothing is worth going through it.  You can only just hope as me and my husband did that it will be different next time.

But I am through it now.  Even as the war rages in my head, I am aware that I am sitting upright at my computer writing and drinking.  I ate breakfast this morning.  I folded laundry.  (Rather, I watched my husband fold laundry because I was out of breadth after carrying the basket to the bedroom.)  Still, life is moving forward.  Tomorrow, the PIC line will be removed from my arm.  No more tubes sticking out me.  No more fridge full of IV meds.  I pray that my body catches up with this decision quickly and that tomorrow the act of folding laundry will be more within my reach.

That there's a baby coming - one we worked really hard to get - isn't joyful just yet.  But I know it will be in time.  And I have Atticus to remind me of the why.  And now when he asks how I'm doing in the morning, I can tell him I'm fine which is more than I could have hoped for weeks ago.  So we have that going for us, which is nice.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Feeding a Four-Year-Old: the Most Impossible of Tasks

At Atticus's parent/teacher conference last week, his teachers showed concern over the fact that Atticus has not once been willing to eat the snack that is offered at school.  When they asked him what kind of snacks he eats at home, he answered, "Chinese broccoli."  (Last year when his teacher ran into the same issue and asked the same question, he answered, "Paneer.")

We do not eat Chinese broccoli and paneer as snacks in our house.  I promise.  And I know both of those foods are nutritious and a sign of good food management on our part.

But here's my problem.  The kid won't eat but a small handful of foods and it is driving me insane.  I have tried everything to introduce (a nice word for literally trying to force down his throat) diversity into his diet, but it's not happening.  And surely, yes, we could argue that Chinese broccoli and paneer are diverse and they are, but I mean diverse variety.

I have tried everything.  I am at my wit's end.  Here is the list of what I have to work with:

LIST of FOODS ATTICUS WILL EAT

Apples
String Cheese
Flat Cheese (Colby Slices)
Shredded Parmesan Cheese
Plain Spaghetti Noodles
Turkey Bacon
Chicken Noodle Soup
Chicken Tenders
French Fries
Graham Crackers
Chinese Broccoli
Rice
Paneer
Indian Potatoes
Garlic Naan
Sticky Chips (Chips and Cheese)
Celery and Carrots with Dip
Pancakes
Peanut Butter
Soft Pretzels
Pretzels and Chips
Watermelon
Carrot Fruit Smoothie

What I have listed here is the entire list of food my four-year-old son is willing to eat.  Okay, not entire. I did not include the myriad of sweets he is willing to eat as those are many and not the point.  This list is literally every food I have to choose from when making his three meals a day.  Notice, while peanut butter and cheese are on this list, bread is not.

And maybe this list looks long to you, but please consider that three times a day, seven days a week equals 21 meals a week, not including snacks.  Also, please note what is not on this list:  pizza, hot dogs, hamburgers, lunch meat, bread, spaghettios, meatballs, bologna, pretty much any other food a kid will normally eat …

Please.  I beg you.  Any suggestions?  I have tried the following:

1.  Only served the food that the adults in the house are eating and waited for hunger to do its job.  (NOTE: It is a lie when they say children will not let themselves starve.)

2.  Hidden new foods in foods he approves.  (NOTE: My son is very smart and very particular and head-bangingly stubborn.)

3.  Bribed him with treats or iPod time or toys.  (NOTE: Somewhat limited and positive results.)

4.  Screamed at him.  (NOTE: This never feels good or right, but in the moment …)

5.  Sent him to his room.  (NOTE: Our current strategy, and by strategy I mean what I'm doing to avoid a real come-to-Jesus moment with him).

Suggestions?  Advice?  Offers to reprogram him?  Is every kid like this?



Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Problem with Writing Memory

I just finished a really great read, Annie's Ghost, by Steve Luxenberg.  The book follows Luxenberg's  search to find out about the sister his mother hid from her family her whole life.  A few weeks before his mother dies, she reveals the sister to a social worker who then mentions her to the family.  All are shocked.  

As a writer and journalist and son, Luxenberg takes on the awesome task of trying to uncover the sister Annie's story.  This involves a thorough investigation into the mental health system in Michigan, particularly focusing on the city/asylum called Eloise in Detroit.


Here's an interesting paragraph that nicely crystallizes the essential problem with writing nonfiction, particularly distant histories:



(Anna, in this paragraph, is a cousin who knew his mom's secret about Annie, the hidden sister):

"This is a case history of the difficulty with reconstructing long ago events, of the intricate patters of trouble caused by time and memory.  Here I am, reinterpreting my mother's life, trying to replace the distorted picture that I grew up believing with the part that had been airbrushed out, and now I have two versions of this key moment when Mom is declaring her desire for secrecy.  While I have no doubts about the crux of Anna's story -- I know, after all, that Mom did keep the secret -- which version comes closest to how Mom actually expressed that desire?  Was she elliptical and polite, "I would appreciate it …," as Anna's first version suggests?  Or did she issue the equivalent of an ultimatum, "Anna, you are welcome in my house only if …," as her second version implies?  And even if Mom's exact words had been imprinted somehow in Anna's memory, what about Mom's inflection,her demeanor, her body language?  Was she stern, or sad, or nervous, or demanding -- None of the above?  All of the above?  -- when she branded Annie as a taboo subject in her house?

Those nuances lie beyond my reach.  I cannot wrest them, undistilled or unvarnished, from Anna's memory.  Fifty years later, this is the best my cousin can do."

Monday, September 16, 2013

Flat Stanley in Northern Virginia!

The time for Flat Stanley's summer adventures to end has come and he couldn't have ended it in a more amazing way.  Flat Stanley went to Northern Virginia to visit Uncle Zach and Aunt Natalie and he had some major, major adventures with them.  He even got to meet Eula Biss!  Thank you, Natalie, for making that happen!  And thank you, Eula Biss, for being so game!  We really appreciate it!

Flat Stanley Visits Northern VA/DC!

When Flat Stanley arrived, it was pretty hot out, so that weekend, Labor Day weekend, we took advantage of the last breath of summer by going for a hike along the Potomac River in Great Falls National Park. Flat Stanley bravely sat right on the edge and when we looked way down at the river, we even saw a few kayakers out in the rough water!

After the holiday weekend, it was back to work for me, but Flat Stanley really wanted to come along. He chilled with the freshpeople in my composition class at American University. They really loved Flat Stanley and were happy to have him there—I even got them to say “pickles!” when I took the picture. Right after class, we went to have dinner with other professors and with our visiting Writer as Witness, Eula Biss. As I told her about you and Flat Stanley, she was very interested and was happy to take a picture with him. She thinks her four-year-old little boy would like him, too. Flat Stanley also went to the reading Eula gave after dinner, but we were too busy note-taking to take pictures.

The following night, Zach, Miles, Flat Stanley, and I thought we’d head to the National Mall in DC since we had not yet checked it out at night. Unfortunately, Flat Stanley got to experience DC traffic. It took us 40 minutes to drive 4 miles! So, finally at the mall, we were drawn to the Washington Monument, which is under construction right now. You should see it—it is covered, even the pointy top, in so much metal scaffolding so that the workers can climb up high and fix what was broken by the earthquake a few years ago. But because they are working on it for the next while, they’ve lit it up! So there it is, lighting up the mall like a giant honeycomb.

We stopped briefly at the World War 2 Memorial because Flat Stanley wanted to take a picture with your new home state of Indiana represented in name because some WW2 soldiers were from that state. At the Lincoln Memorial, Zach stayed by the reflecting pool with Miles while Flat Stanley and I climbed up up up the stairs to see the huge statue of President Abraham Lincoln. A very nice lady took our picture and said that Flat Stanley was very handsome! She really liked his orange shirt.

We thought Flat Stanley was done with his adventures with us, but he wanted to stay a little bit longer. Do you know why? Well, it’s because it was opening night of the new football season, so he wanted to stick around and watch the Ravens play the Broncos. Based on Flat Stanley’s choice of color in clothing, I think he thought it natural to root for the Broncos, but don’t tell your dad!


Hiking at Great Falls Park - What a View! 
Getting an education with students at American University 
Flat Stanley gets to meet Eula Biss!!
Look at all those cars, Flat Stanley.  Way to keep a happy face through all that DC traffic!
Flat Stanley with Aunt Natalie and Miley Moo!  Hey, Pups!
Flat Stanley pays respects at the wall of his new home state, Indiana at the WWII Memorial.
Hanging out with my people, Aunt Natalie and Lincoln
Broncos?  Shoot, I thought you said Browns.




Saturday, August 31, 2013

DIY Coffee Table Reno

If you watch a lot of HGTV, and believe me, I pretty much max out on it on a daily basis, then you've probably considered a thousand ways you could improve your living space with a can of paint and some wipe-on poly.  If you're like me, you probably also think you could totally take on a kitchen reno.    You probably even call it a reno because you're totally in the know like that.

I haven't taken a rubber hammer to any kitchen cabinets yet, but I did buy a really beautiful coffee table off of Craigslist and I painted it and even used wipe-on poly.  So this is all to say, I'm feeling a little boss right now.  Here's my before and after.

BEFORE.  It's not bad.  I like the white, but I don't understand why the top is untouched.  And these drawer knobs remind me of pointy nipples.

AFTER.  I painted and poly-ed and re-knobbed.  It's a soft green.  Maybe softer than I wanted, but I'll probably be glad I didn't go with a bright, trendy teal in the long run.
All in all.  Very pleased.  Can't wait to see it in my own space (as we are still at my folks' waiting for our rental house to be ready).  Ah.  Personal expression via furniture and familiar coffee cups.  There's nothing like it.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Flat Stanley in Chicagoland!

Chicago!

It was time for Flat Stanley to leave the South and hit the big city, so we sent him to our good friend, Vicki Rakowski.  

Four things to know about Vicki: 1) She's nutso good at karaoke, 2) She's been referred to as Mary Poppins for her uncanny ability with children, 3) She can quote just about all of "The Breakfast Club," and 4) She knows her way around a pirate joke.  So clearly, she just plain rules.  We're all a little jealous Flat Stanley got to go spend time with her.  

In her own words, Vicki describes Flat Stanley's visit:

"Greetings from across the lake! I had a lot of fun with Flat Stanley this week. I live in Brookfield now, which is a suburb  west of the city of Chicago. This is an area I did not know very well before, even though I've lived about a 10 to 20 minute drive away from it for most of my life! But Brookfield is very cool -- there are lots of great places to ride your bike, have a bite to eat and there's even a huge zoo! In fact, the zoo is not too far from my house, so I guess you could say my neighbors are zoo animals.

For my adventure with Flat Stanley, we decided to go to the Art Institute of Chicago. Stanley came with me on my first train ride on the Metra BNSF line, which stands for the Burlington Northern Santa Fe. There is a station right down the street from my house, and the train lets you off in downtown Chicago. Stanley and I walked to the Art Institute so we could look at an exhibit with my friend Alex. Pretty fun! I think Flat Stanley had a good time on his visit to Chicago, and I know I had fun showing him a little bit about where I live!"

Flat Stanley rides the train!

Flat Stanley does the Art Institute!

Thank you for sharing so much culture and adventure with Flat Stanley, Vicki!  We're very grateful and also hopeful that we might be able to make our own trip to see you some time this fall.