Monday, February 29, 2016

Reflection on Reasons, and Reaction: Childless Queens, Part I

"Everything happens for a reason...." "God doesn't need a plan B because He already has a perfect plan."  These are just a few of the platitudes I've recently come across that have given rise to a steady current of thought and contemplation within me for the past few weeks.  And in weighing these questions, I found a sense of clarity that helped lift me from the pit of self-pity into a place of relative peace.

Does everything happen for a reason?  Writer Tim J. Lawrence believes the idea to be toxic to the human heart- that insisting terrible things MUST happen for some better reason strips us from the ability to do the one thing we must when confronted by loss, pain, suffering: to grieve.  (I highly recommend reading his insights here: Everything Doesn't Happen for a Reason.)  I've known this to be true from my own soul-searching, and I have come to believe that God's plan has many letters, an infinite number perhaps.  Not only is it psychologically maddening for me to speculate on what the cosmic reason for every little thing might be, (anyway if it's not a very GOOD reason in my estimation, it's little consolation that something might happen for A reason...) But it is spiritual poison for me to even entertain the thought that pain, suffering, death, emptiness, heartache are part of my loving God's "perfect plan" for me or anyone else.

My take...
God, the author of our lives, may have written our stories, but we are the editors, and He has gifted them to us more as "Choose Your Own Adventures" rather than fixed narratives.  I believe God had a perfect plan which He, out of love, surrendered to humanity when He created us with the precious gift of free will.  The consequence of separating ourselves from Him through sin was not only spiritual but temporal: our choices have an effect not just on our relationship with the Creator but on the natural world as well.  When God created the universe, His "perfect plan" was that we would abide with Him in it- however sin created a schism which separated earth from heaven and us from Him.  The disturbance not only made heaven unavailable to us until Christ redeemed us, but it permeated to the natural order, upsetting it indefinitely- until the new earth and new heaven will be brought forth.  Like the aftermath of an atomic bomb experienced for decades to follow we will continue to feel the effects of original sin in our souls and in the everyday phenomena of our earthly lives until we are united with God for eternity.

Did God plan the recent mass-shooting in my town?  The one that took the lives of six innocents in a diabolical act of violence?  Does God plan a life of starvation, abuse, neglect for children all over the world?  Are they spiritually-ordained absolutes?  I do not believe so.  I believe these sadnesses are a physical effect of our sin and that each choice to sin sets into motion waves of brokenness that penetrate every level of life on earth.  We are all subject to the effects of others' choices, for we are one body.  Even the earth itself is subject to human recklessness and narcissism. Sickness?  A part of God's plan?  Or an effect of having created a toxic earth through our pursuit of innovation and convenience?  Did God plan for me to suffer the deep, deep pain of infertility?  Am I to believe He gifted this to me from the first moment He thought to create me?

No, I don't believe God ever planned my suffering or anyone else's, but it became an eventuality the moment sin destroyed what His perfect plan for us was.  And I believe He gently picks up the trampled remnants and recreates His plan more magnificently than it ever was before, the way an artist uses a faulty brush stroke to form a masterpiece.  There is no better explanation for Christ.  So then, does everything happen for divine reason in accordance with God's perfect plan?  Or do we recognize beauty in the aftermath of great darkness and attribute the fruit of that transformation as the "reason?"

I believe that God's perfect plan is still lingering on the periphery of possibility and that we are players in it- who through grace can help draw others closer to what that plan is.  Therein lies the "reason" for the crosses we are allowed to bear.  If we can through our experiences of suffering enlighten ourselves to the broader world around us with better empathy and motivation to connect with others both physically and spiritually, then we can play a small part in helping to guide humanity down a path more aligned with what God's perfect plan was from the very beginning: to be united to Him in this life as well as the next.  Meanwhile, I want to hold tightly to the vision of God taking this suffering and shaping it into something more beautiful than I could ever comprehend and try, try, try to be patient as I wait for the transformation.  

Sunday, February 21, 2016

My One and Only [BFP]

This is a story of the only time I ever got a BFP.  It's a cautionary tale for all you who use HCG in your luteal phases, and one that changed me irrevocably.

It was a cycle like any other cycle.  I had been through the whole phase of emotions that come with infertility:  The grief, the denial, the anger, the hatred, and I had arrived in a place of relative peace. Or was it numbness?  Either way, I wasn't expecting to be pregnant, and I wasn't relishing in self-pity and misery over it anymore either.  It wasn't a bad place to be actually.

I'd been taking post-peak* HCG injections for months to help stimulate my body into producing enough estrogen and progesterone to keep me from transforming into the PMS-y monster version of myself.  The one prone to dense anxiety, insomnia, alarming fatigue, fits of uncontrollable rage, and a whole host of digestive issues that I had come to accept were a normal part of pre-menstruating Jess. Despite HCG's bloody expensive price tag and my aversion to penetrating my skin with needles, I was so grateful to have it because it solved my PMS miraculously:  no more transient post-peak personality disorder, no more human fried-food vacuum, and no more bloating!  In fact, most of the time I wouldn't have even known I was going to get my period if I hadn't been keeping a chart.  

And based on my chart in October 2015, I was 17 days past ovulation with no signs of AF rearing her ugly face.  Based on NaPro protocol I could have tested on P+16, (we are advised to wait one week after our last injection to allow the HCG injection to metabolize out of our system) but as I was expecting my period to come any moment, I didn't see the point.  Then, P+17 came and went, and still no sign of AF.  I had never before reached this day in my cycle without having some indication that menstruation was imminent.  And so I entered this strange place that only women who struggle with TTC could understand.  I didn't want to test and even toy with hope since I was in a stable place emotionally.  But knowing if by some miracle I happened to be pregnant I would need progesterone support, I went ahead and tested on the morning of P+18.  And you know what I saw?  A BFP.  Sure, it was faint, but knowing that by all medical standards my injected HCG should have been completely flushed from my system by P+16, I believed I was in fact pregnant.  And I have never felt such a complete and immediate flash of emotion.  All of the grief, fear, uncertainty, hope, joy, gratitude, and relief that one person is capable of feeling washed over me like an electric shock- to the point where I believe I nearly fell over.  And I'm not exaggerating.  The next few hours were a flurry of trying to reach my doctor (who was out for a family funeral) and trying to arrange a beta test- which is the NaPro protocol if you get a BFP.  Since my NaPro doc is out of town, his nurse sent the order to a local clinic and I tried to go about my day while praying a mixture of pleas and praises on repeat.  

On the way to my afternoon appointment, I started bleeding.  Okay, relax, I said to myself.  You're just spotting.  But by the time I reached the clinic, I knew the truth: That AF had arrived.  When a potential baby is in the mix, you can never be too sure, though.  Plus, I was too embarrassed to cancel the appointment- "Oh, whoops!  Just kidding!" So I proceeded through the doors, past a sea of babies in the waiting room, into the examination room where the not-napro-savvy nurse looked at me like I was a pregnancy faker trying to get attention.  Part of me still held onto the hope, unearthed in the morning's excitement, that I was pregnant, and the 30 minutes it took for the test to come back were the longest of my life.  Negative.  Such an apt word.  Negative indicates the presence of nothing, which is what was inside of my body and my soul at that point. 

The numbness I'd been feeling up to that day had given in to renewed life and had now returned with a vengence.  This time as catatonic despair rather than complacent indifference.  I fell into a characteristic funk I'm sure each of you understands, and again had to grapple with my wounded soul and volatile relationship with God.  I felt betrayed.  Afterall, if my period had just come four hours earlier I never would have tested.  That's all.  Four hours.  And I would have carried on with my life's work of slowly repairing my spirituality and finding a new place of happiness.  I'm pretty good at that- I can't live in despondance for too long.  But I felt duped.  I felt like a child who had begged her father for a puppy for years while watching him give every other child a puppy and finally was given a puppy only to discover the puppy was a mirage and then had to watch it vanish in front of my eyes while hearing my father say to me, "Oh, you thought you were ACTUALLY getting a PUPPY.  How adorable."  And I felt like a fool, for I'd given myself over to joy that was an illusion.  

My doctor's assessment was that I had a chemical pregnancy, but I believe in my heart it was a false positive.  I know now that HCG metabolizes differently in every woman.  I've read that some have experienced a BFP as late as P+21 without actually being pregnant.  I wish I'd known that sooner.  Thankfully I am no longer taking HCG.  After this episode the pharmacy that compounded it for me went on a hiatus for remodeling of its lab, and I had a difficult time getting the drug for an affordable price, so I switched to oral progesterone.  My levels seem to be holding steady in the normal range without it, and I hope that continues.  It's a special kind of pain to have unspeakable joy crushed in an instant.  I could have lived without experiencing it and feel no better off for having felt it.  But there is a silver lining:  At least I know what a positive pregnancy test looks like.  

[*In NaPro speak: post-peak is my preferred lingo for discussing the post-ovulatory phase since it's been confirmed that I'm not actually ovulating.]

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Reflections on Hope

It's been a while since I've committed the time to put my thoughts to words in this designated space, but not for lack of things to share.  On the contrary, like my thoughts life has been a progressively more intense torrent of work, moving, settling in to a new home, figuring out our new life here, fixing things in the house, preparing for Christmas, recovering from Christmas.... Oh and all of the treatment I've been doing in my seemingly more and more futile attempts at conceiving- driving 1.5 hrs to see the doctor, monthly ultrasounds, blood draws, injections.  So many, many things to think about.  So much to reflect upon, but more often than not no grounding in that reflection.  My thoughts  shoot around like the flares of a sparkler on the 4th of July- propelled by a flurry of emotion.  I reflect on myself, my relationship with God, the hopes and dreams I had that seem so out of reach, whether I have any hopes and dreams for the future, whether investing energy in future hopes and dreams is worth it.  I've come to recognize that HOPE. IS. EVERYTHING.  Anything is tolerable with even the smallest bit of hope.  But without it, disappointments and failures are magnified into disasters that paralyze me and trigger days of unshakable melancholy.

Of course, the majority of my disappointments stem from being infertile.  You'd think the sting of not being pregnant month after month would have softened by now.  But as hope dwindles, disappointment fills the void it leaves behind until disappointment is the lens through which every experience in your life, I mean EVERY experience, is filtered.  With each passing month, hope's ability to drive my purpose has faded until I now persist in treatments because I feel I owe it to myself and what I've gone through to keep going.  [two surgeries, two long recoveries and still recovering, countless appointments of poking and prodding so that I have no dignity or modesty left, uprooting my life and moving home in an attempt to reduce stress, keeping a crazy vegan-kosher-lactose intolerant-celiac-diabetic diet, thousands of dollars spent, and the elimination of every beauty product I've ever loved from my life:] It would be an insult to just stop my journey now.  What would all that have been for?  That is why I continue.  Not because I maintain a strong sense of hope.  My hope has become like a fragile flower struggling to survive against a merciless terrain.  

I often feel isolated from all my TTC sisters.  As someone for whom IVF is not an option, I can't find complete solidarity with women going through that treatment; I can bond with them over our shared frustration, and rejoice when the desire of their hearts is fulfilled.  Yet I can't find hope in reading their testimonials, knowing I cannot walk down that path.  Many of the Catholic women I know appear to be handling their infertility with more grace than I could ever dream to find.  I don't relate well with women whose perpetual mantra is, "God's will, not mine."  I'm just not there in my relationship with God right now.  It is fractured and something I am cogniscient of constantly working on, but as someone who, worse than feeling forgotten by God, feels completely ignored, I don't find myself bearing this burden with grace and gratitude like my admirable Catholic sisters.   In that sense I feel like an even deeper failure than what my physical state has imposed on me.

When you feel alone, it is very difficult to hope.  And let me iterate it is entirely unproductive and pointless to say to someone in despair, "Don't lose hope!"  I've heard this countless times.  And I think, "Why not?  What has hope done for me so far?  It has made some aspects of daily life more tolerable, but so would the relief of finally giving up."  Telling me, "Don't lose hope!" is as effective as saying, "Stop breathing!"  Since I'm not ready to give up yet, however, hope seems the only thing with the potential to lift the dark cloud that's surrounded my heart and soul.  But I don't see hope as a voluntary action, like patience or temperance would be.  For me hope is a reflexive, visceral emotion that either exists or does not.  Certain things stir hope within me despite the voice in my head which says, "There's no point."  I can feel it when it's there and suffer terribly in its absence.  How to find that hope though?

Hope is the answer, I know it is! So rather than attempting to convince someone to hope when that flame has turned to ash, let us say to each other, "Don't give up, friend.  Find things that may renew your hope.  They are somewhere, don't give up.  When your hope is renewed you will feel joy again.  Don't give up."  Telling someone to not give up validates the difficulty of the journey and encourages fortitude.  So I am focusing on things that will renew my hope.  Talking to women who were told they'd never conceive who are now expecting or are now mothers (without IVF!) is a great source of hope for me.  And when I hear them, I feel the spark of hope igniting deep within me, and then life suddenly becomes more tolerable.  And I feel more strength in continuing my treatments.  And so I continue sharing my thoughts and HOPE that someday I will have a success story that will be that light through the dark cloud of someone else's journey.  <3