Monday, August 3, 2015

What We Have is Good Enough

I'm going to share something personal now. I'm not one hundred percent sure exactly why I'm sharing it, but I feel like I should. Maybe somebody out there needs to read it.

First, the good news: I'm having another baby. It is a boy (more thoughts on this later maybe). The debut should be sometime around Christmas-- not only is it always impossible to tell exactly when, there also happens to be some confusion around my due date, so let's just go with Christmas. Hopefully I don't go into labor while I'm enjoying the premiere of the new Star Wars, because I'm not sure which I would prioritize at that point.
This is actually Ros, not the one in utero, but you never would've known if I hadn't said anything, because all fetuses look the same.

So, next, the story: not bad news really, just kind of a difficult story. I think I'm hesitant to share partly because I know there are people out there who would see this and say "Psh, that's nothing." And that's fine. I am sympathetic to all the difficult struggles people have, really. But that does not invalidate my experience or mean that what I went through wasn't hard.

January of 2014, Rosalind was born, as you may recall. It was an awesome delivery, though much faster than I expected, and I loved the experience. I've said a few times since then that if I never had to be pregnant or postpartum again (or, you know, raise that many kids), I'd give birth a dozen times.  But my pregnancy was really hard. I wasn't really sick, but that's not always the hardest part about being pregnant. It was not an experience I was eager to repeat. The nine months before that where we were actually trying to conceive a baby were also difficult for me.

But, so, she was born. And then the really hard part started. I know people have a harder time with the post-partum period than they let on. For me, personally, it was hell. I don't feel like going into great detail here, but basically, the stress of having a new baby, being horribly (horribly) poor, having a colicky baby, a predisposition for mental illness, trouble with nursing, and not asking for the right kind of help OR knowing when to tell people "no thanks" was a recipe for disaster. A really, really bad disaster. I remember being so conflicted between wanting to undo everything and feeling like my baby was not my baby, while simultaneously being terrified that people were trying to take my baby away from me. There's so much more than that, but that's the shallowest nutshell. It was bad.

It took a long, long time for me to reach some semblance of normal. I remember celebrating when I was able to have enough confidence to take a shower while Rosalind slept. Hint: it took me about 4-5 months longer than the average bear to be able to do this.

All this time, I swore I was done. Pregnancy had been hard, we hadn't had "immediate" success in getting pregnant, and the post-partum was too hard. It had taken too long in total and I knew trying again would also take too long and I didn't think I was up for that. But Sam felt there was someone else waiting for us to be ready, some other kid somewhere who needed to be with us. It was really, really hard for me to accept that. Eventually, I agreed to it, albeit reluctantly. We made a deal: we'll try for a certain amount of time, and if it doesn't work, that's it, and we'll move on. I need to be normalized, and I can't drag out the tumult. Something like that. It was a compromise, really. Sam always wanted four or so kids, and he knew that would never happen. He knew it before we got married, and he knew me and loved me well enough to accept that right out of the gate. So the least I could do was try.

And try we did. We actually started seemingly "right away," though it didn't amount to anything. In August, though, something went wrong. Starting in August, I bled for eight weeks straight. It was baffling. A miscarriage? Something else? Still, nobody knows.  I saw the doctor for it. And then, I found a lump in my abdomen. A big one. I could feel it, and it felt about the size of a lemon, at least. I went to the doctor again, we did blood tests, and she ordered a CT scan. She looked me straight in the eye and asked me if I had any family history of a few different types of cancer. Cancer? Well, yes, actually. She said not to worry, but there weren't a whole lot of other explanations. It could be a cyst, but it didn't seem to be in the right place.


I had my CT scan (in which I had to drink way too much of false-coconut-flavored junk for contrast) at the beginning (I think) of November.
The barium fakey-coconut stuff.

As an added bonus, it was so thick the straw stood straight up in it

If you know me, you know I'm no stranger to hospitals and medical tests, but this was different, it was harder. It's always (well, usually) been stuff that brings me hope, makes me feel like "we're figuring this out," and we were bringing me one step closer to getting better. But with all of this, it felt like step after step into the unknown. One night, Sam and I went on a date to see "Interstellar," which was a very good movie, but when we got home after, the whole "not being able to raise your child" part hit me, hard. I realized that maybe, just maybe, I was going to be one of those stories you hear about, where the young mother leaves her baby and husband behind. I never thought something like that could happen to me, not from physical illness, and it was the hardest prospect I think I've ever had to face.

Through this whole thing, we had still been trying for that second baby. Obviously I was not hopeful so long as I was bleeding before, and we thought long and hard about the consequences of a CT scan on a possible embryo, whether chemotherapy was an option during pregnancy, etc, but we never had success.

The day after "Interstellar" I took Sam and Ros with me into the mountains and we walked around and I took pictures of them. It was therapeutic, a bit, and I realized that there were very few things I truly wanted in this world: I wanted to raise my baby to adulthood. I wanted to grow old with my husband. Nothing else mattered any more. We'd been struggling to get on our feet financially, but I didn't even care about that any more. "I am grateful for Sam, and I am grateful for Rosalind. That's enough."
In my mind, that last sentence has always been the caption for this photo.

And even though this was a horribly depressing time, I keep a framed copy of this photo on the wall, to remind me of what I realized that day.

It took way too long to get the scan results back, I think because it got delayed from the holiday. We didn't get the results back til some time in December. They said: inconclusive. They found (strangely) nothing where I could feel the lump. They wanted me checked for ovarian cysts, just in case.  I remember I was at Walmart buying Sam a watch for Christmas and I almost cried in the store I was so happy.

So I had the ultrasound and they said they saw "pearling" on one of my ovaries, and a few cysts. I think the biggest one was about 3cm. The tech told me I was probably feeling a bone or something I had never felt before when I was feeling the lump. A bone, really?  Thanks, lump expert.

And then, a few days before I went in to discuss results with the doctor, the lump disappeared. It had been there for months, and then...gonzo. When I went in, the doctor was just as surprised as I was. She had felt it too, and then it simply wasn't there. All she could say was, "Well, cancer doesn't just go away, so that's reassuring."

It was then that we started talking about everything else. Cysts are actually fairly normal in any woman you pull off the street, but in conjunction with my blood results, it looked like possibly PCOS. My hormones were all over the place. We did a few more blood tests and talked about possible ways to get me pregnant, since she knew that was a goal. She said we had a few options, one being Clomid. That prospect made me nervous, because I was so afraid to have twins. I know the risks are relatively low, but it still happens, and the possibility of overwhelming myself even more than with just one baby was terrifying. We did a few more monitored cycles just to see what would happen.

In March, I got a phone call from the doctor. She said that though my blood tests didn't show PCOS, they had consistently shown that I had low to no progesterone at any given time. In case you don't know, progesterone is essential for ovulation and for sustaining a pregnancy. So, no wonder. We talked about more specific history, and it turns out that it's likely I have ovulated only a couple of times in my LIFE. It was a miracle it only took nine months to conceive Ros. In any case, she prescribed me Clomid.

I couldn't believe I had wasted all that time (both times) tracking fertility futilely, taking temperatures, stressing out, taking supplements and exercising (well I guess that wasn't a waste of time), etc etc etc. I was still scared about the Clomid, too, but after a lot of thought and prayer, I decided that no matter what, it would be okay. There was a worst possible outcome, but we would take everything one step at a time and hopefully avoid it. It took a lot of faith to pick up that prescription from the pharmacy.

The way this works is you take the pill for a couple of days at a specific point in the cycle, so I had to wait for that point. So we waited. And waited. And there was one random day when things were different. And then a week and a half later, much later than it should have been, the day in April when I was supposed to start the Clomid, I took a pregnancy test. And it was positive.

I was in complete disbelief. I can pinpoint to the day when conception occurred this time, and literally two days earlier I had had no progesterone. This is a legitimate, call-the-pope, capital-M Miracle.

I have no idea how or why this happened. I don't know why after going so long and fighting through so much, this happened. And it was literally only a couple of months before our cut-off to stop trying. I threw everything into the hands of faith, tried to prove I would give anything, still didn't get it, and then one day I did. Some people I've told this story to have said "well that's not so bad," or "others have had to go much longer and had fewer answers" or whatever else. And that's true. And I feel bad that they do. But because of that bleeding, and because of that lump, we got answers sooner. Because of that lump and because of that cancer scare, I realized what really mattered to me, and allowed myself to let go somewhat of my fears for the future enough to try. And that opened my heart and let all of this happen.

I'm twenty weeks pregnant now, halfway done.  There's a fetus poking and prodding inside me, something that's old hat by now.  This pregnancy has been hard too, even harder than the first time.  And I'm still scared of what will happen after the baby's here, but I'm already making a dozen plans, strict as they may be, so that I can feel safe going into this.

It's going to be hard.  It doesn't get easier for a while, I know that.  But I'm grateful for it all.  And gratitude turns what we have into enough.