Friday, May 25, 2012
Tiny Handprints on the Sliding Glass Door
In another life my husband and I were neat freaks. A place for everything and everything in its place. We kept our house as neat as those you see gracing the pages of magazines. We didn't have to worry about impromptu visits from friends and family and open the door with an immediate apology to pardon the mess. The laundry never backed up. The fridge was always full of homemade meals. We ate dinner sitting at the kitchen table, sometimes with cloth napkins *gasp* and a large vase of freshly cut flowers in the center. It was quite civilized. When we went to our friends houses who were blessed with children the mess would make my husband's skin crawl, but I would always fixate on the tiny handprints on the sliding glass door. I wanted that. I wanted that elusive messy blessing more than anything in the world.
My husband and I were best friends for years before we started to dating. When we finally admitted that our feelings for each other went beyond friendship, it was all a whirlwind. We started dating in January. In March he asked me to move in with him. I told him, a man who I would most definitely not describe as an animal lover, that I was a package deal. If I moved in, then so did my 2 cats Bailey and Special K. When he immediately agreed with zero hesitation I knew that he must really love me. By the end of the school year in June, my lease was finally up. and I was packing my life up into bubble wrap and cardboard boxes and moving into Dale's modest bachelor pad. He made the mistake of going on a long business trip shortly there after, and by the time he returned, silk throw pillows graced the couches, rugs warmed the cold floors, bright artwork splashed across the cold white walls, new bedding covered the bed, and large pieces of furniture flanked the bedroom walls to make up for my sudden lack of sufficient closet space. It was now OUR home instead of his.
We happily lived together for several months before we fessed up to his traditional Shanghainese parents that we were living in sin. Two months after that, in November, there was a sparkling new trinket on my ring finger. When we gave our parents the good news visions of hundreds of guests that I hardly knew and a huge Catholic church wedding started piling up in my extremely social parents' minds. That was never what I had envisioned for myself growing up however. For a time I grew up in Massachusetts and spent summers on the beach in Cape Cod. I was always in love with the water from the time my mom took me to Diaper Dip at the YMCA at 5 months old. The ocean. Golden sand. Wind blowing through my hair. That is what I always imagined for my wedding day. So why when I live in California, a state blessed with many beautiful beaches, did I insist on a destination wedding? All of those beaches were far too close to home, and way too close to the hundreds of guests my parents wished to invite to our big day. So on August 10, 2010, surrounded by 52 of our closest family and friends, in a beautiful white gazebo on Cable Beach in the Bahamas, I married best friend. Everything about that day was even more amazing than I had imagined. If I had only been able to bottle the happiness, the naivete, the hope, the exhilaration of that day.
Shortly after we returned home to the bay area at the end of August, we started actively trying to conceive a child. There was never a doubt in our mind that it would happen for us. A couple weeks later we put a bid in on a beautiful 4 bedroom house. The offer was accepted and by the end of September we had packed up out lives once again and we moved from our two bedroom townhouse into our new large home. We painted all the rooms and decorated it to the nines. All we needed now was a baby to fill that room across from our bedroom that we already referred to as "the nursery."
A month later, 3 days before my period was due, I peed on a stick and saw those two beautiful pink lines for the first time. I was on top of the world. I wrapped the test up in a small box and made a huge dinner feast. I placed the box on my husband's dinner plate and anxiously awaited his arrival home from work. I am pretty sure I was crying before he even ripped the last piece of blue paper off the box. I remember vividly the moment Dale opened the box because it was the very first time I had ever seen him cry. Within seconds we were collapsing into each other's arms, sobbing with joy at our good fortune. We were so naive, so naive to assumed that seeing those two pink lines guaranteed that 9 months later we would end up with a healthy baby in our arms. Within several weeks, tears of joy were replaced with tears of sorrow as I sat there by myself in the examination room in a scratchy paper gown and the doctor coldly announced that there was only an empty sac on the ultrasound screen while there should have been a fetal pole and maybe even a flickering heartbeat at that point. I remember naively thinking in that moment that it was the worst day of my life. I was sadly mistaken.
Months later, after enduring a second heartbreaking loss at 8 weeks, my husband and I sought help from a fertility expert. There had to be some reason that we kept losing our babies. I started blogging as a way to release some of the pain I was going through. At the time I was blogging as "We Got Hitched. We Bought the 4 Bedroom House. Now What??" Some of you may remember me. I was shocked my how many followers cared to ready my ramblings. I was in a very, very bad place. And the kind words from fellow bloggers really saved me. The majority of friends and family had no clue that Dale and I were going through this. Most didn't even know we were TTC thankfully.
On the afternoon of our second fertility doctor appointment, I remember the crushing blow as we sat there in the doctor's office and she warned us that she had some bad news for us. The room smelled like leather from the pretentious oversized sofas. Fittingly it was a rare rainy CA day and the dark clouds peered through the heavy drapes behind her desk. The tests had determined that my husband had zero percent normal sperm morphology. The odds of us getting pregnant on our own and carrying to term, without the aid of IVF with ICSI were incredibly miniscule. Our hope of conceiving a child the good old fashioned way had been laid to rest. She then proceeded to explain the IVF process in detail. Slowly I started to become hopeful again. She had a plan. With ICSI our odds of conceiving were extremely high. We told her we wanted to get started right away.
I have heard it said that doing IVF is taking the easy route. What a lot of people don't know about IVF is that medications can really wreak havoc with your body. Quite frankly I was a crazy person. The medications made me want to rip everybody's heads off within a mile radius of me. I was miserable. But it was all worth it I kept telling myself, because in 9 months I would be holding my child for the first time. I remember seeing that child's heartbeat for the first time. The cold tears streaming down my face. WeI was going to be a mother. I started dreaming up nursery schemes. I was looking at car seats and strollers. Once again I was on top of the world... and then I was at rock bottom, again. The third time was not the charm. After seeing the heartbeat several times on the ultrasound screen, at 9 weeks, the heartbeat had stopped beating. This could not be happening. Life could not possibly be that cruel to me. I sunk into a depression so deep I did not know how I would ever climb out again. This was our first year of marriage. We were supposed to be having the time of our lives. Enjoying each other's company. Instead when I wasn't at work I was in bed crying my eyes out, ignoring friends' phone calls, days fading into days. After several months I finally worked up the courage to go back to the doctor and have that WTF conversation, the one where she assured me that the results from the DNC showed a chromosomaly normal female and that it was all just a fluke. That it was an amazing sign that we had been able to get pregnant on our first round of IVF and that a second round of fertility treatments would surely yield the holy grail.
Right before we were about to start medications for a second round of IVF, a miracle happened. We once again managed to beat the odds and got pregnant on our own. But sadly, pregnancy number 4 was not meant to be either. Just when I would think that life could not possibly get any more miserable, the hits just kept on coming. Somehow deep within me, I worked up the courage to start that next round of IVF. When the large box of IVF medications arrived, there was no excitement this time. Just anger that I was having to go through this process all over again. Anger that I had been left with an empty bank account and empty arms after the first IVF round. I had nothing to show for it except a whole lot of heartache. The meds were just as horrible as I remembered. But again I convinced myself that it was worth it because I would soon finally be what I had wanted more than anything in the world: a mom. I once again survived the process. And once again, at the first ultrasound appointment we were greeted with a heart flickering away. Three more times I saw the besutiful site of that heart beating away. At the second ultrasound appointment it was determined that I had a subchorionic hematoma, but the doctors were cautiously optomistic and after a fabulous third ultrasound at 10.5 weeks, we had our final appointment at that fertility clinic and we were released to my OB. I had never made it to the graduation appointment before. I was finally starting to believe that this was going to happen for us. We were going to be parents. But then at 11.5 weeks we discovered that we were not. The heart had stopped beating. Miscarriage number 5.
After my first loss, back when I had started my other blog, I remember reading the heartbreaking tales of women who endured loss after loss. They were so strong. How did they manage to live through so much heartache? I never wanted to be part of that sisterhood. But suddenly I was. Recurrent pregnancy loss. I was angry. I was mad at the world. I was mad at God for making me go through all this misery. I was an only child. All my life I had gotten almost everything I ever wanted. And then suddenly the one thing I have dreamed about, coveted since I was playing house with my baby dolls as a child, was suddenly so unattainable. In the depths of my despair, I read about a free fertility seminar given by a doctor who is often dubbed as the "Miscarriage WIzard" in fertility forums. I was sick of my previous clinic chalking all my losses up to bad luck and I was ready to hear what a fresh face had to say about my struggles. We attended Dr Zouves' seminar at a local hotel and I learned more in an hour with him than I had learned in a year and a half at my previous clinic. Dr Z just has this calming way about him. Within 10 minutes of being there I had found the hope I had lost so long before. I just knew that he would be the answer to all our problems. We waited to speak with him after the seminar and told him the short version of our story. He was surprised by the bloodwork that had not been run by my previous clinic and felt that we would be able to finally get some answers through the results. We set up a phone consultation with Dr Z and sent him all my medical records ahead of time. We were shocked when Dr Z told us that first of all my previous clinic knew from the very first bloodwork they ran on me that I was MTHFR positive with the blood clotting gene. I should have been on blood thinners through both IVF cycles and sadly was not. He came up with a plan of action for tests that he wanted to run and told us that he was confident that he could make our dreams come true.
Through this bloodwork it was also determined that I had some immunilogical issues that could be making the environment less than ideal for a growing fetus. When I did conceive I would need to do several rounds of IV interlipids to keep the pregnancy going. It was a breath of fresh air to finally have some answers and have a plan for finally carrying a pregnancy to term. Right before we were set to start my IVF cycle with Dr Zouves, he recommended that I have a hysteroscopy to verify that the conditions were ideal for the cycle. Dr Z informed us that if he did the procedure it would not be covered by insurance, but if I had it done at a local OB clinic, then it would be most likely covered. I could not believe that he was trying to save us money. At our previous clinic they were constantly nickel and diming us and bleeding our bank accounts dry. Several times during the process Dr Z had my primary care run bloodwork so that it would be covered for us and saved a whole lot of money. In case I had any doubt where his heart was, it was quite clear to me that he was a doctor that was not in the business for the money as many are, but was in it to bless families with children. After visiting the local OB for my hysteroscopy surgery, we were dealt another crushing blow when it was determined that there were "leftover products of conception" from my previous DNCs and that with all the uterine scraping my lining most likely would not build up for several months after. When that OB gave me that miserable news, I cried my eyes out. I was set to start my third IVF in a few weeks. It was going to work out perfectly with my Christmas vacation schedule from my teaching position. I had already used up my vacation time and really needed that cycle to work out with my vacation. And more than just that, my heart just ached to be a mom. And the thought of putting that off for another couple months was just devastating. When I called Doctor Zouves with the news, however, he told me that he had reviewed the records from the procedure and that the outlook was not nearly as grimm as the other doctor had led me to believe. He said it might alter my cycle by a week or two, but with meds to build up my lining we could still make this cycle happen. And he was right.
In December we started our third IVF cycle, our first in the capable hands of my hero Dr Zouves. Our parents had no clue that we were embarking on another cycle. We did not want to get their hopes up. After all the losses we just did not want to risk breaking their hearts one more time. So when my cycle worked into Christmas and I sat there in stirrups for a monitoring appointment on Christmas morning, I had to come up with a very good excuse for my angry Italian mom as to why we could not be there at the planned time for Christmas dinner. I still cannot remember what I told her. And several days after Christmas we returned to his beautiful offices for our egg retrieval. A disappointing 5 were retrieved, but all fertilized. By day 5, 3 were still going strong, 2 of which were perfect grade A morulas. And we sat at his desk and debated how many we would put back. I remember the conversation vividly. He asked if we were afraid of having multiples and I immediately replied "Heck no!" After what we had been through in the last 2 years, the thought of ending up with two beautiful children and not just one at the end of the rainbow, was a welcome thought and not something we were afraid of. And because during our previous 2 cycles we had transferred 2 and ended up with only one fetus at first and of course nothing to show for it at the end, we decided to stack the deck and go big, transferring all 3 embryos. Some thought I was crazy, but I did not come that far to march out of another fertility office with empty arms again. And an hour later we watched the screen as Dr Zouves transferred our three beautiful embabies back where they belonged.
And after the longest wait of my entire life, my beta HCG bloodwork came back positive, with an initial reading of more than 3 times the average post IVF transfer reading. And I started to hope against hope that this time things would be different. This time I would be buying baby things and decorating a nursery and holding at least one baby in my arms come September. Several weeks later, at 6 weeks 4 days pregnant, on the day of my father's 60th birthday party, I endured the uncomfortable ultrasound wand one more time. And immediately Dr Zouves said "Here's Baby A. And here's the little heart flickering away." And we immediately knew we had been more than successful. He then pointed out Baby B's heartbeat as tears of joy streamed down both our faces. And then there was a dramatic pause as he searched around and verified that that was it. And we all let out a sigh of relief when he confirmed that we were only having twins. On the ride home I went back and forth about whether I was going to tell my parents. It was my father's 60th birthday after all. What a gift this would be for him. But of course given all we had been through with the 5 losses it was so incredibly early to be counting our chickens before they hatched. My heart won the battle over my mind and I wrapped up that beautiful utrasound photo for my father. And as the guests started filing into the party facility, I stole my parents away for a brief time to a small side office and presented my father with the wrapped photo. I will never forget that moment when pulled the lid off the box and the tears immediately started rolling down his face as he exclaimed "HOLY SHIT! Is that TWO babies?" My heart wanted to burst with happiness. There is no greater gift I could have given my father. My dad is the kind of guy who makes silly faces at stranger's children in line at the bagel store and leads a Boy scout troop simply because he loves children. I could not wait for that moment when I could place one of my own in his arms for the first time.
When Dale and I decided to start a family after months of arguing back and forth, we agreed upon 2 names, one girl name and one boy name. I had no idea my husband would be so picky about names! It was like pulling teeth. From the time I was a child, I always loved the "Madeline" children's book series and always hoped I would have a daughter some day with that name. Dale wasn't too crazy for it at first but after months of arguing about other names, we always ended up coming back to it and thankfully ultimately he decided he liked the nickname "Maddie." The middle name was easy. She would have the same middle name as me and my mother and both my grandmothers: Elizabeth. The boy name was even more difficult. Partly because I am a teacher, and a lot of the names that my husband liked had negative connotations in my mind of the poor behavior of teenagers of years past. Ultimately we both agreed upon Matthew, which means "Gift from God." It was pure coincidence that both names start with the letter M. When we found out we were expecting twins, I kept telling Dale that we should come up with one more boy name and one more girl name in case the twins were the same sex. Dale, however, insisted from the very beginning that we were having one of each sex and refused to discuss any more names. I am not sure how much of that was wishful thinking on his part and how much was good old father's intuition. But sure enough, when we went for our anatomy scan, it was determined that Baby A had a penis and Baby B was missing such an appendage. My husband was right. He practically did a happy dance in his seat. All I cared about was that there were two hearts still flickering away on that ultrasound screen. Even though we were well into the second trimester at that point, I still had a hard time believing that this was really happening for us. I don't think I allowed myself to breathe until we hit viability at 24 weeks. At that point I finally allowed myself to start buying nursery decorations and register for baby gear. It was surreal walking out of Pottery Barn Kids with those bags full of coordinating madras, turtle themed bedding. I was on my way to finally becoming a mommy. At 26.5 weeks my husband put the crown molding up and we put the finishing touches on our twin nursery. I remember sitting there by myself in the rocking chair at the end of the day in disbelief and daring to dream of my children's precious faces.
My twin pregnancy was far from text book. I will save all the gory details for another blog. But the short version is that I had morning noon and night sickness from 5 weeks all the way until I gave birth. I had to have a Zofran pump deliver nausea medication to my bloodstream 24/7. At 16 weeks I had to have 4 hour emergency surgery for a blood clot in my arm (that was caused by a faulty PICC line insertion. I was hospitalized for kidney stones twice and I went into labor at 27 weeks (3 days after finishing the nursery) and ended up spending the last 7 weeks of my pregnancy at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital with preeclampsia, trying to keep my babies cooking as long as I could. I was told that if I could make it to 32 weeks they would be happy and if I could make it two weeks further they would be ecstatic and the babies hopefully wouldn't spend more than a month in the NICU. I sailed passed the 32 week mark with flying colors on my miserable bedrest, but on the morning of 34 weeks exactly my kidneys stopped functioning appropriately and I was told that my children were being given eviction papers.
On August 10, 2010 we gave infertility and recurrent pregnancy loss a swift kick in the ass as Matthew Thomas (5 lbs 8 oz) and Madeline Elizabeth (4 lbs 4 oz) came into this world kicking and screaming. I could not believe when they held those precious miracles up to my face before rushing them off to the NICU. I could not believe that I was finally someone's mommy. I said to Dale "We did it" and he replied "No, YOU did it." Although I had had several steroid injections, they both needed a little extra help breathing after birth. Madeline, the little peanut at 4 lbs 4 ounces proved to be a problem child from day one, ripping off her breathing mask and IVs several hours after birth. After several attempts to replace the breathing mask, and her constantly ripping it off, they gave her a chance to breathe on her own and she passed with flying colors. My little fighter. And she has been calling the shots ever since believe me. Matthew unfortunately needed CPAP for several days and it wasn't until he was 4 days old that I was able to hold him for the first time. I always hoped I would have a little girl, but I had no idea how special the relationship with my son would be. He melted my heart the first moment they placed him in my arms. The meaning of his name "Gift from God" turned out to be highly appropriate.
As my children's 2nd birthday approaches, I realized I missed blogging. I missed the camaraderie and support of the blogging community. For those of you who do not know me, my name is Eileen and I am pleased to meet you. I figured I needed to start my blog off with this summary as a way to explain to you where my hard earned family came from. Every heartache I have endured in my path to motherhood has shaped who I am today and I would be remiss not to start a new blog without explaining how we finally came across our pots of gold at the end of the rainbow. Since shutting down my old blog, I have really missed having a place to vent. And more importantly I missed having a place to keep track of the precious memories as they fly by. People always say "they grow up so fast" and by God they are right. I feel like I blinked and my children were suddenly toddlers. I cannot promise that I will have time to be a faithful blogger like before, but I do look forward to sharing some of the beautiful memories of multiple motherhood as the years continue to fly by. Welcome to my new readers and hello again to my old faithful readers. I have missed you. Since I left you a lot has changed around here. My house is a chaotic, disorganized mess, but my heart is full, so incredibly full of love. And my sliding glass doors are finally beautifully coated in tiny handprints. And I couldn't ask for more.