Wednesday, April 1, 2009

IVF life lessons

To keep myself busy during these days of waiting (a nearly impossible task), I've been thinking about what this infertility journey has taught me. To be clear: I don't believe that God gave me this condition to teach me something. In fact, that assertion makes my skin crawl. But I do hope to learn something from it.

This morning, I learned a particularly valuable lesson. And that got me thinking about some others. Such as:

1. You are much less in control of your body than you think you are.

I think anyone who has suffered a significant illness or condition begins to realize this, whether they want to or not. We are told, in our image-based, youth-obsessed culture, that we can and, in fact, that we ought to control our bodies. We can look younger. We can be more fit. We can eat healthy and run marathons and avoid processed meats and buy organic produce, and the end result is supposed to be a "better you," resulting in a "better life." Very Oprah-esque.

The truth is, your body can turn on you in a heartbeat. Literally. Or it can be harboring an anomaly for years, completely unknown to you. And there may be absolutely nothing you can do about this. Which means that it is not your fault. Some conditions have traceable roots: if you smoke, you're more likely to contract a number of things and yes, in that case, I think you bear some responsibility. But those cases are less common than we'd like to believe. Much of the time, there's no clear reason. This is both horrifying and freeing.

As someone who works a lot with people who are dealing with dis-eases of every kind - mind, body, and spirit - this is a good lesson for me. I'd rather have learned it from a book. In fact, I did learn this from books. But I know it in my bones now, in ways no book could teach me. My condition is not life-threatening, and to be faced with that reality is another situation altogether. But even non-life-threatening conditions can be a threat to the life you imagined.

2. And yet, in spite of lesson number one, you may turn out to be much stronger than you anticipated.

Three and a half years ago, when we started this baby-making journey, I spoke with a friend of mine who had done IVF to conceive her daughter. She told me about the details of it, and I thought, "wow. I could never do that. All those shots? And the drugs? I just couldn't do it."

Well. Yeah. Here we are. And, here's a little IVF secret: it's not really that bad. (Don't get me wrong: I know this is spoken by someone who's only done it once, and who is still in a position to hope that it worked. Multiple IVF'rs may have a vastly different perspective. Completely fair.) The shots? Not terrible. The retrieval? I was under anesthetic, and had just some minor cramping afterward. The transfer? Painless. And super cool.

I realize that I've been very, very fortunate in suffering almost no side effects. But I am the kind of person who tends to imagine the worst. I thought IVF would be a terrible, horrible, no-good, very-bad experience, and it hasn't. I'm not the injection wimp that I thought I'd be. My husband, who hates blood in every visible form, is doing just fine with the bum-shots. I did not turn into a completely crazy emotional wreck. (Yet.) Although this hasn't been easy, it also hasn't been as hard as I anticipated. Sometimes, things are not as bad as you fear. And part of that is because you are not always the wimp you thought you were.

3. You can look fine on the outside and be riddled with emotional shrapnel on the inside.

I knew this one already. But it's been reinforced for me: that not all wounds are visible. I spoke the other day with a woman in my church who is in the early rounds of diagnosing her breast cancer. Another woman in church is in the last stages of her chemo, which appears to have been successful. Newly Diagnosed Woman said wistfully, "the thing is, everyone knows to be careful around Chemo Woman because she has the turban, so she's obviously sick. Even if you don't know her, you know something is going on. Whereas, I'm freaking out but I look just fine, and I really feel fine, but nothing shows on the outside."

I knew what she meant. Again, completely different health problems going on for us, but the same dilemma: not all struggles are visible. Be careful with others. You never know what battles they're fighting inside.

(However, there is a caveat to lesson #3: it is okay to acknowledge that some people are just assholes.)

4. And, today's lesson, which appears at the end of this vignette:

This morning, I faced a new injection dilemma. For the past month, I've been remembering which side to inject myself/be injected in by the day: odd-numbered day = right side; even-numbered day = left side. This wasn't hard to remember for the stim meds, which I injected myself. I tended to remember which side I had used the day before. Plus, those were at night, when my brain is firing on all cylinders.

But for the PIO, which I can't see, and which must be given in the morning (not my best memory time of day), I needed this system. So, this morning presented a problem: yesterday = odd-numbered day. And today = odd-numbered day. Hmmm. What to do? Keep my neatly organized system, or go with the flow?

I chose door number one: keep the system. So, we injected my right side for the second time.

Which brings us to today's final IVF life lesson:

If you insist on keeping the illusion of control under uncontrollable circumstances, you will probably only end up being a pain in your own ass.



  1. I love your lessons, especially number 4. Number 1 is especially notable for me right now, and I'm realizing that it's a lesson one has to learn over and over. I hurt my knee 2 years ago and I learned that lesson well, but now, 2 years later, after a long recover and then a year and a half of returning to normal, I'm learning it all over again.

    Thanks for this post - it's really well-written and easy to identify with.

    But even though I know I can probably do IVF, I don't think it would be that easy! I admire you.

  2. Agreed on all fronts! I have learned so much from this experience, and I know it's changed me, mostly in good ways (I think).

    Hope you're hanging in there. I'm trying to internalize lesson #1 as I sit here and worry that every little thing I eat or move I make is somehow hurting the little guys in there.

  3. Wonderful post. I was just talking to my mom today about the illusion that we are in complete control of our bodies and our health. And yes, as difficult as infertility is, I am grateful that it is not life threatening, or so debilitating as many other illnesses.

    I am thinking of you during this waiting period!

  4. This is an absolutely brilliant post!

  5. uh yup.

    so much learned... so much. i hear ya.

    thinking a lot about that emotional shrapnel thing lately... wish i could ALWAYS remember that. ALWAYS. though, yes. some people are just assholes.

  6. Ahhh, this is great! I especially love the final point. I am forever changed by this four year process (battle), and try also to see the silver lining. Hoping the wait passes quickly for you!