Sunday, November 28, 2004

Remembering the NICU

In honor of the birth of Julie's baby, my best NICU memory ever:

It was Sunday night. The babies had been born just after 11pm on Thursday, so even though the law guaranteed me 96 hours, I was being discharged the next morning. Thursday to Monday equals four days: Asshole Math. I had just survived three room changes in three days, my milk wasn't coming in for shit, and I ached all over. I also couldn't sleep for the scary belly rumblings as everything began searching for its original positions; apparently my reproductive organs just couldn't give up their habit of pursuing pipe dreams. So at 11:30pm, I pulled on this heavy fleece burgandy zip-up robe my mom had given me and shuffled down to the NICU, trailing visions of my grandmothers as I passed (it was that sort of robe). The halls were dark, the nurses' stations were glowing, and I finally saw the minifridges where all the snacks had been coming from. My universe was expanding.

After the nurses gave me permission to come in, and I'd washed my hands, I found myself in a peaceful nursery for the first time ever. Unlike the night of the babies' births, the room lights were dimmed and the noise level was muted. There were nurses talking in hushed voices while they sat on stools in clusters at the other end of the room, and halos of light over the babies at their stations. I finally learned that the stools had height-adjustment, so I could find a comfortable position right up next to the babies in their cribs (alas, on different sides of the room). Wilder was already in an incubator, Elba was asleep, but Gemma was fussing a little on her tummy -- tummy sleeping being just fine when you're hooked to a ventilator and enough monitors to handle incoming air traffic -- so I settled myself next to Gemma. For the next half-hour, I sat there in the near-dark, the woosh of the vent and the soft beep of the monitors keeping me company, while I cupped Gemma's body with my hand. With my fingers on one side of her back and my wrist on the other, I covered her torso from neckline to diaper. And under my hand, she drifted off to sleep.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Oh, Good Lord

So there's a woman on the Triplet Connection who wants to know how many folks there conceived triplets on their first cycle of IVF. She's really asking how many folks safely delivered triplets after their first cycle of IVF, but she's too stupid to get the difference.

No, no, this isn't the line I'm supposed to take. She's under enormous stress, she's not thinking rationally, I'm supposed to be compassionate. But I'm struggling a little because she's only done 3 IUIs with clomid, and now she's decided, on her first IVF, to push for a 3-embryo transfer because anything less would feel like 1/3rd less a chance at getting pregnant.* She wants more than one child, she can't take the stress of ART anymore, and -- after all, she's visited main board on the Triplet Connection, she knows what's involved -- she's comfortable with getting everything done all at once.

You know, back in my RE glory days, the clinic nurses used to do blood draws on Sundays because the hospital lab was closed. So I'd line up with a few other tired-looking souls outside the exam rooms, and of course, we'd be standing in front of those enormous bulletin boards filled with baby pictures and Christmas cards. The brag wall, right? Look what we can do for you! Or, erm, not--because you are, after all, still looking at these photos after all this time. I'd stand there, looking and not looking at those photos, caught in the cliche of hope and despair, and I'd see the occasional photo of triplets. A number of thoughts would run through my head:

  • What a freak show. We can not do that.
  • Do they really want to post those photos? Not exactly a rousing endorsement for the clinic's protocols, are they?
  • Yeah, I feel just crappy today, but at least I'm not stupid like the parents of those kids. What were they thinking? Didn't they know better?
What can I say, I was cycling. I tended to sing-song the stress words in my inner monologue.

It's not pretty to confess this, but during what felt like the longest months of my life (I so did not earn my passport stamp on Infertility Island, which was ironic because after a decade without periods, I definitely arrived carrying supplies), one of the things that got me through was the self-righteousness that came with knowing Calder and I were following the smart protocol. No, I still wasn't pregnant, but that was because I was smart, I was careful, I was in control. I wasn't wanting to put back three embryos, or in our case, trigger with four follicles--not that I ever had to make the decision to walk away from a cycle or my money, I'm such a bitch really to be writing this. Simply stated, I kept myself warm knowing we were Doing The Right Thing.

Of course, that was also the bind. Were we never going to get pregnant because we couldn't agree to cross the Rubicon, pull out the big guns, take some risks or even reserve a seat for the IVF parade? We were already taking a risk or two after all: this wasn't one-embryo blastocyst transfer we were talking about, this was IUI, land of media-adored baby litters and their wacky loving parents. We weren't quite so in control as we liked to pretend. But Calder was really clear: "there are babies in China now, dear," he said. "There's only so much I'll do (or spend, quite frankly) and then I want a baby in this house, not just a big vat of pharmaceuticals in my fridge." Easy for him to say. He had great sperm. Jerk.

Where was I?

Reading this woman's story takes me back to the glory days of my self-righteousness. I sure as hell hope she has a responsible RE, because someone needs to bring her back to the world of reality.

* Counter-intuitive it may be, but I've done some reading on the subject, and there's no medical evidence whatsoever to support the idea that, all things being equal, transferring 3 embryos gets you better odds than a 2-embryo transfer. I'm going to try to pull the citations together one of these days. It's sort of key for this SR article I'm trying to write.

Monday, November 01, 2004

A House I Don't Live In

Infertility is a house I don't live in anymore. I packed up my boxes, loaded up the truck, and drove away into the night. I should type, into the morning, but that's not true. I drove away into the night, and it took me a long time to unpack at the new place. It took a long time for the new place to feel like home, and for the sun to come up. Pregnancy and birth and my babies' infancy--they were the dark hours between one house and the next, and I spent a lot (too much) of that time feeling homeless, and lost.

For a long time, the old house--the infertility house--was still home. I moved through the rooms of the new house, the house with a pregnancy and then (even. still.) the house with our babies, but the rooms of the old house still shaped my mind. I woke to bright, harsh mornings and squinted at the world, wondering where the long, golden sunlight of my autumn afternoons had gone, the soft, familiar ticking of the clocks in that house I had known so well. I had grown accustomed to the shape of the infertility house, the familiar path from bedroom to bathroom to bare refrigerator door, and at night, in the dark of the new house, I stumbled against the walls of hallways I didn't know.

Unpacked boxes lay in heaps against the walls of my new house for months and years. They sprang open at unexpected moments, spilled out onto the corners of the dining room floor, and I could never tell whether to throw away the contents, had a hard time untangling myself from the blankets I found inside. I pulled out the photo albums, photos of sorrow and rage and self-pity, and their aura seeped out into the new house so it felt like a place I knew. I looked at those photographs, and they reminded me of myself, when the new self was a stranger who baffled me every day. I held onto those photographs like a talisman, and they kept me company in the dark.

If I dare, in the moments before sleep, I can float back to the nursery we brought our babies home to, the lawn whose shade I tracked so their infant skin wouldn't burn, the kitchen they spattered with sweet potato and tofu. We live in a new house now, the house we hope will carry us to our children's adulthood, a wonderful, light-filled, airy new house, surrounded by more grass and more trees than one family deserves, but a part of our life stayed behind in the precious walls of that old dusty house on its cramped city lot. Infertility is another house I've left behind, a house I have longed for without understanding why, a house that shaped who I was, even after I moved out.

When do memories of old homes lose their power to transport us? When does the ache of remembrance fade into the past? One of the biggest rooms in my old house, my house of infertility, was the room of my broken body. What Julie wrote, about the enormity of desire, about the grief of self-betrayal, I felt that once, I lived in that room. For how many years did I stay there? I half expect to find another one of that room's unopened boxes even now. My body remains unforgiven, and when Julie writes about eagerly embracing medical interventions, I remember: me too. Oh, yes, me too.

And looking at those photographs, going back to that room--of cerclages and wheelchairs and shower stools and fear--what I see more than anything is the grief along the edges, the angry denial of body and self that lurked under those words when they came from my mouth. I wasn't going to allow myself, not for a minute, to pretend I didn't need those interventions. I was going to embrace my modern high-tech motherhood as a badge of conquest, a medal of honor, and damn those silly home-birth mothers for not understanding, not knowing, the shape of the world as it truly was.

Grief will have its time, whether you fight it or not. There was, for me--though I denied it at the time--grief in all those machines, grief in all those technologies, loss and pain and sorrow. Some days, I look at the fading photos of those griefs, and it's as if I can walk right back into them, through the doorways of my mind. And other days, they're just photographs, and I'm glad--so glad--to live someplace else. At last.