Monday, October 12, 2015

learning to run again.

Or, "How I've spent over 780 days trying to not lose my mind over how infertility treatments and having twins wrecked my body."

To recap, in May of 2013 we started the testing at CCRM (aka "the magical island of fertility and Cabela's") to hopefully be on the road to having a baby. By August of 2013 we were actively trying, and actively trying to conceive via doctors and a dandy little price tag at one of the top facilities in the country means ish gets serious, fast. Outside of vigilant hormone monitoring and wanded ultrasounds on the daily, I was also asked to keep my heart rate below 140 at all times. There are many studies on heart rate and conception and miscarriage, with mixed results, but as I have gotten used to telling people, you don't take any chances when a) your chance at having a family is on the line and b) your are spending oodles of cash on that chance. So, starting in August of 2013, my heart rate stayed below 140. 

For a lot of people, that's likely no big deal...whether because they don't care to work out all that intensely, or because they have crazy awesome respiratory systems that allow them to jog or even run and keep their heart rates below 140, it's not a life altering requirement for some, maybe even many. For me, however, it most certainly was. For the much of the last ten years my sanity has been fragilely tied to my health and fitness. I spent 2007 and 2008 getting up at 4:30am to run or workout at the gym before heading to school to teach. I spent the summer of 2009 in Hotlanta and ran every afternoon in ridiculously humid heat, without fail. For several years, intense 80 to 120 minute workouts happened at least 5, usually 6 days a week. In 2011, I ran 8 half marathons and in 2012, I ran two full marathons. Over the course of 2010 through 2013 I completed multiple Beachbody programs, including Insanity twice. The very nature of my mental health relied on something called "Insanity," yes, that is correct Mr. Trubeck. Somewhere in there I also got my personal trainer certification. My life and well being revolved around my heartbeats totaling more than 140 beats per minute, continuously, for at least an hour, almost every day. 

All that's to say, this whole "keep it under 140 thing" initially felt like I was getting a death sentence. Of course, it was for a ridiculously awesome cause, so I was invested in it - I mean, it was only going to be a month or two, anyway, right? Then I'd be a happy little pregnant lady who ran everyday up until she gave birth... 

It was all a pretty rosy picture, then - we were blissfully naive, to say the least. By the time November of 2013 rolled around it felt like we had already been at this for ages (initially I had a typo there and it said "Bovemeber," can I make that a real thing?!). It had only been three months. Just three. On that third IUI we had the ectopic pregnancy, which brought my activity level to zero. The risk of a tube rupturing and having internal bleeding was too high. And clearly, losing a tube was the last thing I needed (little did I know...).

Fast forward another seven months, and by the time I recovered from my tubal ligation surgery and we pondered our only option left, IVF, it was June 2014 - almost a year of under 140 and still nothing to show for it. June and July included a lot of self-inflicted ass kicking while I could - it had never felt so good to sweat. Then, in August, the process for IVF started and we were back at under 140bpm. At this point, even if I did get pregnant, I wasn't going to be able to continue running during it, because doctors only let people who were runners keep running, and I was over a year stale from being able to call myself a runner. Furthermore, we were crazy-lucky enough to end up being pregnant with twins - aka a "high risk" pregnancy - and I likely wouldn't have been allowed to run either way. 

After a terrible scare due to a subchorionic hemorrhage around 8 weeks (terrible scare, in my opinion, includes anything with blood involved), I was restricted to no activity until the first trimester was over. No 140bpm, no 100bpm, I was allowed to walk as needed, and that was it. If I wasn't ridiculously grateful for being pregnant, this is the point at which I would have just been saying: Kill. Me. Now.

But I was pregnant. That was all that mattered. And, let's be honest, I was so queasy that first trimester I wasn't eating enough to warrant the energy to even get close to 140bpm, anyway. Oh, and the daily 5:00am shots with a giant needle to my rear usurped some considerable energy, as well. Life was ridiculous, but I was still just so damn happy. Around 12 weeks I went back to walking. I had become the queen of walking in the past 16 months, but being four weeks further along, with twins, and four weeks further out of shape, it was slow going. My marathon running body was struggling to walk 4 or 5 miles. But I kept on, and walked 2 to 5 miles a day all the way up until the doctor finally put me on real - only get up to go the bathroom - bed rest. 

Again, it was worth it. I was sporting a baby bump and planning a future for two girls. I considered myself the most fortunate person on the planet. I was ready to give up anything to be in this place just months before.  I wasn't sure it was ever going to be possible, and there I was, awaiting the arrival of not just one, but TWO babies. 

So, as it turns out, I spent my pregnancy not just dreaming about snuggles and their future careers, but longing for going above 140bpm. When I drove or walked by a runner I stared wistfully (and creepily).  My mental health and well-being had fragilely rested on physical activity for just shy of 10 years now. But, in light of this infertile ludicrousness, I realized something had dramatically shifted. Running, sweating, and getting my heart rate above 140 wasn't a fairytale because I couldn't wait to burn calories and psychologically convince myself I wasn't the f-word that rhymes with democrat, but because I just wanted to RUN. I just wanted to feel strong. 

clearly there might
be a small piece of
me mourning to not
have just swallowed
so. much. belly.
(To be fair, that's like 98% true. Because I am human, when I was 8 months preggo and looking like I had swallowed two regulation size basketballs there was certainly a small piece of me longing for that pre-pregnancy body. But it certainly wasn't a big chunk, just bite-size. Win.) 

I started walking again about two weeks after I gave birth. I didn't start sooner because I was exhausted. Utterly, and completely, exhausted. I had never imagined that breastfeeding would be the hardest part of having two babies (at the same effing time) - waking up every 2 hours (and having to wake them up) for an hour (plus) of what I considered torture was the most mentally and physically challenging thing I have EVER, ever done. (And, 5 months later, still an extraordinary feat to accomplish every day - but that's a whole other story.)

By July I was doing strength training again (the infamous "July Challenge: the 2015 edition"), and when I went back to work on August 31, I started running again. It was my reward for having to go back to work - I was going to be able to run every day again. Freshly empty of milk (yes, it's weird, but yes, it's real - going for a run required CONSIDERABLY more planning than two years ago), I laced up my shoes on the morning of August 31 and set out on a two mile run. A distance I wouldn't have considered worthy of the title "work out" two years ago, now looking rather beastly as I set out.

Humble pie is delicious, friends. Mmmm, humble pie.

I did it. I ran two miles that day (and immediately texted my brother to inform someone of said run, proudly). (Also, "run" being a loose term to roughly represent the concept of going faster than walking. Next to Usain Bolt I was actually traveling backwards, but that's neither here nor there.)

I ran two miles the next day, too. No, I didn't run two miles the day after that, because I was pretty sure I had left all of the parts required to birth babies on the sidewalk the day before, but I went on a five mile walk instead. And then I ran the next day, and the next. Pretty soon I started running three miles, and I started to look like someone actually running (ok, let's say jogging), as my pace quickened. 

My heart rate? Definitely over 140bpm. Pretty sure my slow jogging is causing my heart rate to almost max out, in fact. But again, neither here nor there.

I finished out the month of September having run exactly 40 miles total (and having walked 40+ miles, as well, as long as we're counting). I ran the last two miles (of the 40) in the evening on September 30, determined to reach the even 40 for the month (even though I despise evening work outs, with a passion). While two years ago I would have cheered on any friend or family member (loudly) for getting in 40 miles in a month - it's a great number and any activity is more brave and courageous than no activity - I would have been extremely critical of that number as my own personal mileage total. I was accustomed to running anywhere from 70 to 150 miles in a month. But, I was extremely proud of myself, with humble pie smeared all over that smiling face of mine as I ran back up the walk to our house that night. Forty miles was a big deal, to me, in this time and space. 

I've always been able to preach to other people that some activity is better than none. I'm the biggest cheerleader of anyone who is just starting out running or working out regularly. Physical activity works MAGIC on your physical and emotional health - regardless of whether it's running a mile a day, doing a seven minute workout, doing 50 squats every day, or running marathons. Just be brave and do something that you can do regularly/consistently is generally my mantra I try to push out. It doesn't have to be 5 miles a day or Insanity. Find something you like (or at least don't hate), something that challenges you, and turn up the music and do it often. You'll be proud of yourself. You'll feel strong. You'll feel happy. Magic.

I have not, however, always been able to understand the idea of knowing my own limits or the idea of balance/good decisions when it comes to training and working out. So this whole idea of having limits (the 140bpm heart rate cap, a wrecked body from carrying and birthing twins, etc.) has and will continue to be quite the learning experience. As someone who preaches empathy from the rooftops in my day job, and in pretty much all other aspects of my life, it has been a hell of an immersion experience in understanding what other people face when it comes to embarking on a journey in the realm of physical activity. I'm getting there, though (the wifey is helping). We celebrated forty miles in a month like it mattered, because it does. 

I spend a lot of time thinking about the values and mindsets I want my girls to embrace and embody as they grown up, and I would want them to be proud of themselves for accomplishing any feat, no matter how big or how small it may seem to others (or even their past selves). When it comes to fitness, I see a lot of people give up on themselves because they set unrealistic goals and when they can't meet them, they just give up entirely. Which, in my opinion, is far worse than setting more reachable (and reasonable) benchmark goals - even thought they may be less ambitious. Don't get me wrong, I'm all about BIG, ambitious, goals - it is in my blood at this point - but when it comes to fitness they can be toxic and demoralizing if they are ill-informed (i.e. unsafe, too much to soon, etc.) or if you don't have the right supports in place. 

So, forty miles. I did it. I don't need to qualify it with excuses (i.e. recently gave birth to twins, etc.... I mean, just saying), I need to just be really effing happy about it, and use it as fuel for a bigger, better goal this month. What's this month got in store? While I love running, and am planning to run a half marathon before the girls turn one, I'm going to take my running down to once or twice a week and focus on strength and high intensity endurance for the month. This month's challenge is about getting through the first month of Insanity work outs. Took the fit test last Monday and was already out ahead of the last time I took it, so cheers to a month of new records - just the encouragement a wrecked-but-soon-to-be-stronger-than-ever-thirty-year-old body needs.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

shake it out.

"We have twins. No, that word should be banned. You know what twins are? Two fucking babies at the same time." -This American Life

I've struggled to figure out how to put into words the range of emotions and experiences I have been "privy" to in the last 5 months. That, itself, is always a red flag warning for me. Writing is my outlet, my processing machine - without it, I fill up with anxiety, apprehension, and other frustrating emotions. Writing, especially completing a piece (and by piece I mean amateur blog post, but allow me some elegance here), floods my body with relief. It is as if someone opens up a dam in my head (and heart) and lets all the dirty bath water drain out in a rush. But sometimes writing is complicated, especially writing a blog. The last time I struggled to write, I found myself wishing I had a private blog, one just for me. I was consumed with self doubt about publishing my writing for others to read. Nothing I could have written could have been both honest and genuine without burning some bridges. 

I never started that private blog, although I likely should have. While, in some ways I simply waved my arms in the air like I just didn't care and wrote on in spite of all, I held a lot in, leaving some complicated emotions unprocessed. 

I find myself sitting in a similar place as of late - although not due to any single person or incident, but rather as the result of a much more general anxiety around writing about topics that are potentially polarizing for people for a variety of reasons. I don't mean anything crazy like my political views (which happen to not be all that crazy) or something as controversial as whether or not I prefer my grilled cheese sliced diagonally... I mean the simple act of being a mom - a lesbian mom to twin girls conceived through IVF due to infertility - but simply being a mom, no less. 

I follow a few "mommy blogs," I'm hesitant to admit. And when I (ignorantly) sometimes go to view the comments on a post that seems perfectly harmless, perfectly honest, I'm caught off guard entirely by the amount of negative backlash a well meaning, vulnerable, and genuine post can be subject to. This mom just poured her heart out around finally being able to admit X about herself, child, and/or marriage and friends and people crucify her. Crucify. And here I am left sitting dumbfounded with my iPhone in my hand (thumb doing that crazy twitch thing I'm pretty sure means our generation of smart phone users is totally effed and that evolution and/or God is somewhere deeply regretting the opposable thumb gift),  wondering what the hell is wrong with people?! Patience? Grace? Empathy? Good lord, people. 

Oh well. Haters gonna hate, as my girl T-Swift says. If I can manage to find time between having two babies (at the same time), working full-time, and being a wife to write, I'm going to shake it out as much as I damn well please. Am I right, Tay Tay? Amen.

Saturday, June 27, 2015


pretend wedding
let's play wedding!
If I recall, this blog started as an ode to the ludicrous fact that I did not have the right to marry the woman I love, and who loves me, fully and unconditionally (in spite of all my faults - of which there are many). Going through the process of planning and having a wedding as a gay couple was quite the adventure with a surplus of comical moments, to say the least...

Along with those ridiculous moments, however, was a very real undercurrent of fighting to feel legitimate, to have a wedding that wasn't just playing pretend. A sad reality accompanied the satirical commentary of my posts on the ignorance and oversight of so many... we truly were planning a wedding that had no legal basis. It was 100% symbolic. I remember having moments of utter panic and anxiety when it would hit me that I was essentially just planning an over-sized party for 50+ of our closest friends and family... but calling it a "wedding" like I was 7 years old again playing pretend with my other little 7 year old friends (although, confession, we never played pretend wedding... we played pretend "Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman" and other really elaborate - and empowering - scenarios). Would people really come? What if they gave us presents? Could we (should we) accept them? Up until the day of I was never really sure if it was going to feel real for me, or anyone there...

In the spring of 2013, just a few short months before the big day o' nuptials was planned, the state of Colorado legalized civil unions between same-sex couples, going into effect on the best day of the year (May 1st), meaning that suddenly our wedding had a smidge more "realness" to it. No, being "civil unioned" with my lady was not what I would dream for myself, for my children, or anyone else. Settling for the "rights" of a second class citizen is not what most people hope for themselves and those they love - am I right? But hey, we got sign some papers and feel official, that was something, right? When lacking basic civil rights, you learn to take what you can get (something I, as white person, understand minimally in comparison to many in this country).

civil union
So, we were "civil unioned" on June 23, 2013. That was more than same-sex couples in many states could even hope for at the time. We called it a wedding. We called it marriage. It was our wedding, and our anniversary will always be June 23 (hint hint mom, set a reminder for next year... kisses!). And, of course, the day was absolutely magical - yes, MAGICAL - and one of the best days (and parties) of my life.

Then, surprise, surprise, last fall, thanks to some brave (and likely wealthy) gay couples who challenged the state of Colorado's definition of marriage (and won) - the clerks in several counties started issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples ignoring the still ongoing legal proceedings. Shortly after, however, the Supreme Court helped a girl out, and refused to hear cases challenging the defintion of marriage in several states, which, by default, upheld the lower court rulings - meaning same sex marriage was now legal in Colorado as of October 7, 2014.

we were only feeding 3 people.
don't judge.
Just a few days before that landmark day in Colorado the wifey and I had finally received the incredible news we'd been hoping, wishing, and praying for with all our hearts - I was pregnant. Within days of finding out we were going to have a little one, finally, we were given the piece of mind that our child would enter into a world that recognized their parents as humans deserving of basic civil rights (at least in the state they called home). On May 1, 2014 (also known as my 30th birthday) we were legally married (in our kitchen) - a marriage that was recognized by both the state we live in and the country we live in (and we got the paperwork filed just days before the girls made their surprise arrival - phew!).  There were A LOT of pancakes involved.

However, when I woke up yesterday morning, my marriage was not "recognized" (aka... not valid, not real, not legal, not equal, non-existent, etc.) in the state I still call home. I think the mitten state is pretty much the greatest place on earth - the bees knees if you will (minus some nasty gloomy winter months), but when I "go home," my wifey goes back to being "my lady" in the eyes of the law (certainly not in the eyes of my incredible family that we go home to see)... which makes home feel a little less like home. Home, to me, is a place where you are loved and valued for who you are, and who you love doesn't change that.

Yesterday, that changed. Yesterday, the lovely resident bad-asses on the Supreme Court ensured that every person in this country can marry the person that they love - because love is love. As the decision stated and as was reported by so many yesterday and today, how ridiculous is it that we, as a country, would make a group of people beg and plead to have the right to legally enter into a monogamous, loving, stable institution and commitment (while straight paper all over this fine land spit in its face and make a mockery of it on a daily basis - but I digress...)?!

We (the wifey, thing one, and thing two) were watching CNN as the verdict came in (these days, the wifey and I watch a lot of CNN), and saw the historic event play out live on the steps of the highest court in our country. The wifey started crying - in her mid forties, she never thought this day would come in her lifetime. I, on the other hand, was underwhelmed - and felt guilty for it. I sat there on the couch, feeding my two amazing girls, already legally married, not fully grasping the moment.

Of course, I knew social media would be blowing up in no time, and I tuned in, eager to see the reactions that would, no doubt, be plastering my newsfeeds in numbers as plenty as dropped commas in a high school term paper.

As I soaked up the joy and celebration of my gay and straight friends alike, the moment sunk in. I began to grasp the largeness of the moment as my wife tearfully hugged our two baby girls (lovingly referred to above as thing one and thing two) and talked about how they would never know a world where their mommas' love wasn't valued and recognized as real, as legitimate, as just as true and unconditional as a man and woman's. That's pretty damn amazing. In fact, it is downright f-ing awesome.
A throwback from a post from May 2012

Our daughters will never know the phrase "gay marriage," our marriage will just be marriage to them, as it should be. While I don't believe in saying thank you for granting me a basic civil right... thank you, SCOTUS (some of you, anyway), for making this my daughters' reality.

We have a long, long way to go in this country when it comes to race, class, gender, ability, and sexual orientation, but here's to this victory. Keep 'em coming.
"The dynamic of our constitutional system is that individuals need not await legislative action before asserting a fundamental right."
"No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right."  
Obergefell v. Hodges

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

caught between

Turning the big 3-0 means I have some room for reflection this week...

A year ago today, I went into what was supposed to be a minor, diagnostic, laparoscopic surgery to figure out exactly what was happening with this whole "wanna have a baby, can't have a baby" situation that had been transpiring for about a year at that point. Having had no previous medical issues of a serious nature, my doctor was incredibly confident that we might find, at worst, some scar tissue from my ectopic pregnancy that had occurred about five months prior, that she could dissolve/break up. Of course, it would have been irresponsible to not discuss the true worst case scenario - discovering that one or both of my tubes were blocked or in some way nonfunctional. Based on other diagnostic tests I had undergone, the odds of this were slim to none, but if that happened, my doctor needed my permission to permanently tie off my tubes while she had access. She would only take such grave action if the tube(s) could never be functional, so of course, we green lighted that.

I woke up in the recovery room to my doctor at my side. She had forewarned me that I would not remember anything she said to me at this point, but I have never forgotten a word of it. Somehow, the worst case had occurred. Both of my tubes were "blocked" (due to hydrosalpinx) - there was no way a little egg was ever going to successfully get into either of them and find its proper way. The fact that I had had the ectopic pregnancy was somewhat of a miracle in and of itself (hence Snowflake's renaming as "Ice Crystal") - I would never had had a successful pregnancy via IUI, no matter how many we tried. As such, she permanently clamped both tubes - a tubal ligation. Still somewhat out of it, tears began streaming down my cheeks. My doctor brought tissue over to me and began wiping my tears. I cringed and sobbed harder thinking of the wifey having to hear this news alone, outside in the waiting room.

Having a tubal ligation wouldn't change the fact that we would never be (or have been) able to conceive a baby through the "normal" or natural process (for us, that being an IUI). It would, however, make it possible to have better odds if we chose to go the IVF route - hydrosalpinx decreases the likelihood of IVF success by up to 50%, but permanently clamping off those tubes removed that risk so the fluid in those tubes could not disrupt an attempt at pregnancy.

As I have said before, I never thought money would play a role in my decision to have children. It's something that no one should be able to put a price on. However, we had already spent thousands of dollars for each of the five failed IUI attempts, and we were looking at an additional $30,000+ price tag (or 10,000 bottles of three buck chuck) if we went forward with IVF. As I said a year ago, how does one make that decision? No one should ever have to put a price tag on being a parent.

twin onesies
It's a year later. I'm two days away from my thirtieth birthday, and as I write this I have two little miracles of science (aka lovely little parasites) kicking each other, my ribs, bladder, and stomach. I am incredibly grateful - I am exhausted, I've been having contractions since mid-February (and with a torn round ligament, they are already excruciatingly painful), and my stomach has been evicted and I have no appetite... it feels like the first trimester nausea all over again (but add in terrible acid reflux). I wouldn't trade any of this, for anything. I'm on my way to 34 weeks with twin girls and I am grateful for every single pain that comes my way - it reassures me that I really am pregnant. As I said a year ago, after a 29th birthday gift of an unexpected tubal ligation, my 30th birthday is bound to be a huge improvement, no matter what happens.
hands down, my favorite ecard while on our
infertility journey

This journey seemed incredibly unfair most, if not all, of the time. For about two years the simple sight of a pregnant woman made me cringe as bitterness welled up in my throat (and sometimes still does). But, oddly enough, I'm even grateful for that. The empathy and understanding I have been able to internalize as a result, is (no exaggeration), priceless. Understanding the perspective of others has always been a priority for me (hello day job!), and this experience has opened my eyes to not only how ignorant one can be about the specific pain and grief of infertility and miscarriage, but for any and all human experiences that I may or may not fully understand. It has made me curious. It has instilled in me a deep understanding that no two experiences are the same, and one should never assume as much. It has shown me the amazing capacity humanity has for kindness when we look outside ourselves. We can be a selfish people, but most, given the opportunity, will amaze you with their capacity to support and love.

My love for my wife has grown exponentially, which I didn't even think was possible. My appreciation for kind, thoughtful, curious, and empathetic people is now front and center when it comes to who I choose to surround myself with. "Good people" show up in unexpected places (as do the opposite, in all fairness). While I do have a nasty taste in my mouth for selfish people that isn't going away anytime soon, even those who I might label as such I seek to make sense of their selfishness and have compassion for how they have to live their lives (as both a cause and a result of that selfishness), which I wouldn't wish upon anyone.

Clearly, the wifey and I are ecstatic as we await the arrival of two girls. However, my emotions have continued to be a mixed bag as I feel caught between the world of deeply understanding the loss and grief that goes with infertility and miscarriage and the joy of carrying these two little ones and becoming parents. I feel a ton of guilt. I feel caught between two realities - the reality of infertility and the intense emotions that go with that, and the reality that I am currently getting to experience what many on the other side see as out of reach - the birth of not just one, but two daughters. Out of respect and thoughtfulness for those struggling, I have refused to shout about my pregnancy from the rooftops (i.e. facebook, large gatherings, at work, etc.). We are privately joyful, celebrating with friends and family. We aren't trying to keep a secret, we're simply attempting to not be responsible for causing any pangs of grief and sadness, as couples experiencing infertility are so often subjected to without even the slightest thought or care.

dreamsI remember not being able to get married and being incredibly jealous of those I worked with, those on facebook, and even friends who were able to get engaged and get married without a second thought. To most people, marriage is, and always has been, a natural part of the course of life. To me,  and my now wife, it was not something we were allowed to experience. When we were finally granted the right to marry (or rather, first it was the right to be civil unioned...), I wanted everything I had seen as "due to me" based on the experiences of all my straight friends, acquaintances, and colleagues (excitement, parties,  showers, "likes," etc.).

Infertility created many of the same feelings in me. However, unlike being granted the right to marry, which in one swoop affected millions of people (still working on it in several states!), finally getting pregnant did not suddenly mean that the millions of other women facing the disease of infertility were also suddenly granted the same joys as me. The many people who had reached out to me as the result of my blogging and sharing their own infertility or miscarriage stories were still struggling (along with many, many others, around every corner). I've struggled to be publicly joyful as a result, and I'm good with that. Being pregnant is a privilege that millions of women would give, quite literally, anything for. I have cherished it, and feel incredibly lucky, no matter how costly or drawn out the journey was for us.

No, of course it's not "fair" that some people conceive in a few months of trying and others pay hundreds of thousands of dollars at the hope of a child. But what I have learned about myself, my wife, and the friends and family we are surrounded by, through this process, is something that those who never struggle (or don't seek to understand and support those who do) are not privileged to know, and I am a better wife, daughter, sister, friend, and colleague as a result - and, very shortly, will also be a better mom.

People have asked me if I am done blogging, or why I haven't been - which I appreciate... blogging is therapy for me and knowing that others enjoy reading what I write and find it meaningful is a crazy-awesome compliment. I'm eager to post more and share this crazy journey of carrying twins, giving birth to twins, raising twins, and two-mom parenting. However, to do so, I need to figure out how to make sense of my conflicting emotions of intense joy, gratefulness, and guilt. How do you go from being so deeply steeped in the grief and loss of infertility to being full of joy and excitement, while still seeking to minimize intensifying the feelings of grief and loss others are still experiencing? Its rhetorical. I don't have a clear answer, and I don't think there is one (although advice is certainly welcome). It is what holds me back, but is also what fuels me and makes me feel like it is even more important that I do write.

Hopefully looking back and reflecting will give me some space to look to the present and ahead - as I can only imagine the hilarity that is about to ensue in this household as we welcome two little munchkins onto the team. In the now-famous words of my wifey - how bad can two be?! If their behavior in my belly is any sign of what is to come, we are in for quite the ride.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Patience, Grace, and Three Buck Chuck.

I haven't blogged in awhile. Obviously. I wish I had. But you know, it's tough.

Life certainly has not left me lacking for things to write about. I have a lot to say. A LOT TO SAY. The world has certainly kept on spinning since August when I last laid my fingers on these keys with the intent to share a little reflection and humor with the world... I just haven't known how to express the explosion of emotions I've had over the last several months as I have witnessed and experienced the best and worst of humanity, family, and friends.

Being human is complicated, people. I spent the first 28 years of my life thinking I was a pretty decent human - faults and idiosyncrasies galore - but self-aware, kind, intelligent, and loving, nevertheless. And yet, in the last two years of my life, I have learned more about myself, and people, than likely the last 10 years combined.  

Most of my lessons-learned came with the struggle to become a parent... but they have branched so far beyond what that might immediately bring to mind. Five years ago I wasn't even sure having children was something I definitely saw as part of "the rest of my life" and yet for the last two years it has schooled me like a kindergartner attempting to play four-square with the 3rd graders (...that never happened to you?!).

Desperately wanting to grow our family has not been an easy path, nor is it for anyone who faces the challenges of not being able to have children within even just 8 or 12 months of trying. It's something that seems like it comes so easy to so many people... when you're battling infertility (yes, battling), it seems like every story you hear is about that awesome friend or friend-of-a-friend who went off birth control and got pregnant within a month (or two, God forbid). Obviously those stories are not every woman's story, and those woman who are extremely fertile bitches are certainly not to "blame" (however, I will admit that I have certainly needed to remind myself of this fact once or twice in the last couple of years...). For every woman toting that seemingly-too-easy baby bump around, their are those in the shadows with grief and loss in their hearts, whether they have ever managed to get pregnant or not. 

This journey has made me, well actually, us (the wifey and I), question a lot of things, and taught us so many life lessons I wonder how I might ever have of learned them all in one lifetime, otherwise. Many lessons are intangible and far too big to find a way to express them in words, but here are a handful...

#1: Have patience and grace for others, regardless of whether or not they are batshit crazy.
I've come a long way on this one. I can somewhat shamefully say that looking back 10 or 12 years ago, my patience and grace was in short supply, and mostly saved up for people who wore their challenges on the exterior. When it came to people who got on my nerves, acted immaturely/ignorantly, said stupid things, got in my way, etc. I had little patience or grace. My attitude wasn't often far from, "how dare you...?"

The last two years have been a harsh illustration of how insignificant so many things are in life, and what is, in fact, truly important. Patience and grace have become my go-tos and my wingmen. All it takes is a few deep breaths and a quick reminder that everyone has their own struggles and demons and the world becomes a much easier place to live in. It has given me much greater capacity for forgiveness even in the face of some pretty harsh choices and experiences (although forgetting is something I have yet to master - hopefully that comes soon?). 

#2: Empathize.
On my toughest days I have to remind myself that the pregnant woman walking by me in the grocery store (looking absolutely fabulous, of course) may have spent the last 3 years (or 7, 10, even 20...) trying to conceive that incredible, beautiful, bump. But I'll admit that it's damn tough to convince myself of that when it's so much easier to be bitter and scornful of what may or may not have been a successful path to what I/we so desperately want.

And, it turns out, there is invisible pain, grief, and sadness everywhere. Facing other humans with this in mind - whether colleagues, family, or friends, has helped me take just a little more time to understand people before making assumptions and judgements. Most everyone has something on their plate that is making it overflow. I've started asking questions, even when I don't know what to ask - opening a door for those who are just waiting for a sliver of an opening to let it out, and letting those who aren't ready to talk know someone cares enough to listen and try to understand, when they are. The relief I have felt being able to talk about this journey with friends and family is immense, and I am honestly not sure how others manage to navigate without that.

Again, it doesn't make it any easier to forgive and especially not forget, but especially when it comes to some pretty tough personal relationships, it's a pleasant reminder that we are all humans, we are all struggling, and what's most important is that we figure our way through our own battles and demons and come out on the other side as better people for having done so.

#3: Find humor everywhere you can - it is most certainly the best medicine.
Perhaps the oddest lesson-learned (but certainly my most favorite) has been the realization that finding humor in the bleakest of moments is quite possibly the most therapeutic thing we can do (my father has been trying to teach me this for years).

Take, for example, a routine visit to the doctor. After just about seven months of weekly doctor appointments and ultrasounds (not of the belly variety that we tend to glorify in movies...), I realized that I had been almost-Pavlovian trained such that when I enter a doctor's office, I take off my pants and hop on the table. And, as it turns out, access to your bottom half is not necessary at the allergist's office. Imagine that! 

Or, a few months back, when the wifey and I were laying in bed reflecting on the name "Snowflake"(which is what we had nicknamed our little one that ended up not making it, last fall). While the news (that didn't come until many months after my miscarriage) that my tubes were, for all intensive purposes, completely blocked and useless, was tragic, we realized the fact that I was able to get pregnant at all through IUI was basically a downright miracle. As such, we registered how inappropriately delicate the name "Snowflake" was, and that in fact, she was actually one incredibly tough bitch and was more deserving of a name like ICE Crystal (said like it's rolling off the tongue of a pro-wrestling announcer), and proceeded to say "Ice Crystal" and "Snowflake" in as many tough voices as we could come up with until we we were laughing too hard to keep going.

We know it's strange, perhaps downright bizarre, but it makes us giggle when we think of the little one, which is what a little one should make us do. We have found humor in strange places, and it has kept us real.We actually think it may be God who has the weirdest sense of humor out of all of us.

#4: Happiness for others IS possible, even in the toughest of times.
People can see women going through infertility as pretty bitter. Let's be honest, we can be, and for all intents and purposes, rightfully so. However, bitterness is an inward feeling, and it's fleeting. It's an emotion that makes putting on a smile feel like lifting 200 pounds (and for comparative sake, I haven't bee allowed to lift more than ten pounds since late-July 2014, so lifting 200 would be damn near impossible), but it is still just an emotion.

I recently saw an article on facebook that both made me incredibly angry and also made me cry, as it reinforced this lesson. The blog entry's title is, "I could have a baby but she could not." Most of the article is spent with this woman talking about how completely insensitive she was to the fact that while she was feeling immense amounts of joy, others might be silently struggling. As I was reading I actually got queasy. While I find plenty of things people do when it comes to pregnancy and children insensitive, this woman was downright unbelievable. She starts with how she got pregnant within, oh you know, days of starting to try, and then goes on to say,
"The next morning [after an ultrasound], as soon as I hit my office chair, I emailed out to all my friends, family and co-workers the ultrasound pictures of our beautiful baby boy." 
I think my blood was actually boiling when I read this. HOW COULD SOMEONE THINK THAT IS OK? Your mom? OK, great (she'll love it). Your BFF who just texted and asked you, "where are the pictures?"? OK, obviously. But all of your (distant and not so distant) friends and colleagues? Seriously?

Furthermore, she goes on to describe how (not shockingly) someone (actually a friend, not even one of her many colleagues that was also likely to have been struggling with trying to become a parent) was incredibly upset and asked to not be included on that kind of email/news sharing event again. When I almost lost my damn mind was when the author goes on to say how SHE got angry at this,
"...I got angry. Here I was, in the happiest time of my life, and I needed to be quiet.  I needed to hold my joy.  And I felt cheated.  Cheated out of the joy of my pregnancy." 
However, some words I left out of the beginning of that quote were "I am ashamed to say..." 
This is where the story, finally, takes a turn. The author realizes,
"But what I didn’t realize at the time was she felt the same way: she felt cheated out of the joy of being pregnant.  She felt robbed of the chance to have life growing in her womb and being called mom.  She was heartbroken.  And I had just added to her grief."
That last quote makes me cry every time I read it, because in just a few short sentences it sums up exactly how I, and so many others, feel, even when we don't want to. I never wanted to be a bitter person, cringing at the news of something as joyous as bringing new little humans into this world. But you begin to feel cheated, and robbed, and so many other things. You become grief stricken and it consumes you. But it gets better, as this author's friend who has endured multiple miscarriages, failed IVFs, and spent several years trying to get pregnant shows the capacity that we all have - and we all need to have faith in each other to have - to be happy for others in spite of our own suffering and loss:
"This friend that I had hurt with my ultrasound photos….  despite my foolish heart and frustrations against her, the day she met my infant son for the first time, she swept him up in her arms, held him close, began to speak and sing soft words of endearment to him.  And I can tell you it was one of the most beautiful moments I have ever seen." (access the full blog entry here)
(I still firmly subscribe to lesson-learned #5 below, but everyone shares in the joy of others in different ways - also something worth noting.)

Being happy for others can live in the same space as feeling sadness, grief, and loss, personally. Yes, hearing that another person/friend/colleague is pregnant can trigger that grief and pain, but it certainly doesn't mean I (or anyone else in the thick of a personal battle) can't be incredibly happy for them, no matter what kind of emotions it triggers in me. Both can live (and love) in the same space. Knowing this about myself is great, but being able to have faith in others to do the same - to give others that same chance, is huge.

#5: Babies are personal (i.e. repeat after me,"I'm not a squealer and that's OK").
When I am lucky enough to be a mother one day, I will love my little munchkins with every sliver of my heart, and then some. However, that doesn't make me a "baby person" and not everyone has to be a baby person. AND THAT'S OK.  Turns out, you can still be a loving, kind, warm-hearted person without squealing at the sight of a baby. You are still a lovely person and have the potential to be supermom without having an overwhelming desire to pick up and hold babies that happen to be in your presence. There are ladies at work who run up to babies and nothing brings them more happiness than holding the little munchkins, I love these ladies - the world needs these people. Just because I stand there looking on doesn't mean I think your baby is any less wonderful than the people around me... where has this social norm come from?  I didn't hold my own nephews until they were old enough to at least appear sturdy - and they are related by blood (and two of the most beautiful little miracles on the planet, if I might say so myself). 

Don't get me wrong, if you shove a small baby in my arms I will look into those ridiculously big eyes and be completely enamored (I may even give you the stink eye if you try and take your baby back from me), but it's not something I'm going to seek out. I'm uncomfortable holding small and fragile humans that belong to other people. Babies are personal, and I have respect for that from every angle. Most new parents are anxious when other people hold their babies (which is completely understandable), and I don't have any desire to be responsible for anything going wrong. I can love your bundle of joy while not holding him or her, they are not one and the same. I can not be a "baby person" and still be a wonderful human being, who will hopefully be a wonderful mother one day.

(and so the daily mantra is born... "I can not be a 'baby person' and still be a wonderful human being, who will hopefully be a wonderful mother one day"..."I can not be a 'baby person' and still be a wonderful human being, who will hopefully be a wonderful mother one day"...)

#6: We have life-long partners for a reason.
Yes, marrying your best friend is great. Being in a committed relationship with "your better half" is certainly "the thing to do" these days. We all know this. We all live in a society where it is one of the most assumed social norms (tied with the idea that all women want babies and love to touch them). But your significant other is so much more.
the wifey/partner-in-crime

When I married my wife we had been together for five years already. We had been through some pretty tough tests and came out stronger for having made it through together. I did not think it was humanly possible to love my wife more than I did on the day I married her. But I do.

Desperately wanting to be parents is a whole different caliber of a test on a relationship - I remember reading about the amount of marriages that end as a result of infertility struggles when we first started trying. It's a lot. But this journey has left me feeling closer and more head-over-heels in love with my wife than I could have even imagined on our wedding day.

Significant others are there to help you make sense out of life. They should be your biggest supporters, but also your most honest critics, challenging you to always be better. When patience and grace for others simply isn't enough, I have the wifey. In fact, I've realized there is a pretty critical vow that went unspoken for us, and if I was a "marrier of people" I would include it in every ceremony... "I will  be honest with you when you are not being the kind, loving, thoughtful, and generous person I know you to be, even when it means you will likely get angry with me (very, very angry with me). If you are being thoughtless, insensitive, stubborn, rude, or even bitter, I will be your mirror, no matter how much it temporarily frustrates you. When your patience and grace for other people is tested, I will step up and support you in staying true to your values."

We have life-long partners for a reason. They are to love us unconditionally, but be an honest voice in our darkest times, even though that may get their heads bitten off. I'm certifiably crazy and more than a little stubborn, and I expect my wife to let me know when I'm not being my best self. She does this, and I love her to pieces for it. 

#7: Be honest, be vulnerable (but don't expect everyone to love you for it).
Have the cojones to be honest and vulnerable with those you surround yourself with. It feels amazing.

[end of list]

I remember that when we started this journey it felt like every. single. person. in the world was knocked up, all of them (ALL OF THEM!). As a gay woman, I had a long road ahead of me no matter what... even if, perchance, I happened to be the most fertile bitch in the world, two women don't have a fighting chance of buying a bottle of three-buck-chuck and celebrating a big ol' positive on a pregnancy test a couple of weeks later (as we all hopefully learned in 5th grade sex-ed). I certainly was not getting "knocked up" without the help of science and some serious cash (little did I know just how much cash "serious" was). While I watched friends and colleagues decide to begin growing their family, our family planning looked pretty different, and that was tough to swallow.

three buck chuck
Three Buck Chuck at Trader Joe's
(...aka "Two Buck Chuck" + inflation)
After 5 failed IUIs, a miscarriage, and a "considerable" amount of cash invested, it was over a year later and we were still no closer to being parents than than we started (although, it turns out, the biggest lesson learned in all of this - that you just can't control everything - is about THE BEST lesson soon-to-be parents can learn). In fact, I woke up from what was supposed to be a diagnostic surgery last May with my tubes permanently tied, and to my shock, the realization that now the equivalent of 10,000 bottles of three-buck-chuck lay between the wifey and I having even a fighting chance to bring home a little human. What do you do? I remember people telling me "once you're pregnant, the $30,000 spent on the IVF will be forgotten." Yeah, right. Sure. But what if I don't get pregnant? What if we are poor AND childless? Then what?

Well, obviously we went for it. We harvested my eggs like a dairy farmer and they got babysat by the highest paid and most over-qualified babysitters we will ever be able to afford before getting put back inside of me in what was easily the most ridiculous procedure I have had yet (acupuncture, bedpans, and clowns were involved). We took a gamble and are nothing but grateful for this journey that is far from over. I feel more ready than ever to take on the many unknowns of what lies in our future, and more certain than ever that I wouldn't want anyone else beside me in this journey other than my incredible wifey (and, not to mention, our incredible friends and family right along with her). So thanks. Whether that's a thanks to God, or to Snowflake, or even to the magical island of fertility that I call CCRM, we're thankful for the lessons learned (and not to mention the pretty incredible gifts that we - or right now just I - have to show for it).