Monday, April 14, 2014

Answered Prayers

For a while now, I’ve been struggling with my religion.  It’s not something I’m proud of, but it’s something I want to be able to admit aloud and to myself.  For many reasons, I’ve felt as if God had turned his back on Todd and me over the last few years.  Failing IVF cycles does not help that feeling.

We moved back to Tulsa in 2010.  Since then, we have half-heartedly searched for a church.  We tried a few churches in Jenks and my childhood church.  We tried some of them multiple times.  We really wanted one close to home, but we also wanted one where we felt at home.  We had heard of an outfit called LifeChurch.tv.  However, for years, we were unwilling to try it because we knew the pastor was broadcast in from the home church in Edmond, Oklahoma.  We would say, “How in the world can you feel a connection to a pastor that is an hour-and-a-half away from you when he preaches?!”  Then, LifeChurch opened a new location just outside my parents’/sister’s neighborhood, which is just over 3 miles away from us.  My sister and her boys started attending and something told us to just check it out. 

Oh. My. Word. Craig. Groeschel.  If you haven’t heard this man preach a sermon, you should treat yourself at least one time.  There is something about him.  I can’t even really describe how he transforms words and talks directly to me.  I’m pretty sure he’s been studying my life and has tailored every sermon I’ve heard from him to fit my needs.  There is a long-running joke that I make to Todd that the denomination he was raised in is a cult.  (It’s just a joke, so don’t take offense if you know what that denomination is and attend.  The joke is strictly based on how Todd knows someone at any church we attend, no matter where in the country we are.  It’s crazy cool…and very cult-like.  J)  Anyway, I told Todd after a seminar at church last weekend that if Craig handed me a cup of Kool-Aid, I would gladly drink it.  The man is powerful to me.  Now, don’t start wondering if I’m starting to worship Craig.  I just love listening to him preach.

All of that being said, my sister was the one that brought us to LifeChurch (thank you, Jenny), and Craig was the one that kept us coming back.  Plus, I really love the worship style because I feel like I can dance and sing loud and no one cares.  It’s very much the concert-type worship, but I love every moment of it.  Sometimes, when I put my hands out, I can feel the energy just seeping into me.

Around January of this year, Todd and I really got serious about going every week.  We didn’t like missing Craig’s sermons.  Our only problem was that we didn’t truly feel at home because it was so big and we were bouncing around between services so often.  For months, I had been feeling like we were missing out on something more.  We decided to join a LifeGroup for blended families.  That was the start of the snowball.  We are now teaching 3-year olds every Sunday at 8:30 a.m.  Then, we attend the 10 a.m. worship.  Last, we greet at the front doors at 11:30 a.m.  The blessings we are receiving from the time we are giving are more than I can explain.  My cup runneth over.

First of all, our babies!  We have the cutest 3-year olds in the Tulsa area.  I wish I could post pictures, but I’m sure their parents would not appreciate that.  However, I’ll tell you that their hugs and their touches and their attention starts my week off in ways I haven’t felt in years.  These kids pose challenges that we have to face each week, mostly about how to get them to watch our 20-minute “movie” and answer at least one question correctly.  Did you know that one of their daddies actually built the ark?!  See?  I tell you…precious!  One of the boys squeals when he gets excited.  I must admit that I’ve been tempted to squeal along with him, but that might push Todd over the edge.
I think I’ve already explained how service has touched me.

Greeting.  I thought it would be the smiles I got from dozens of people heading into church that would be the game changer here.  However, that doesn’t even begin to touch Shayna.  Shayna is our new friend that we met the second time we were “on the job.”  She suffered from infertility for years and is now a proud mom of a beautiful, 7-year old boy.  Shayna’s advice, friendship, and love have hit me deep down.  I’m so very grateful for God bringing her to me.  (I have another story about how God put her in my path at a different event, but that will be in the next post.)

We have finally found a church where we are sublimely happy.  <sigh of relief>  We plan things around being there for our serving times.  As I said earlier, we went to a seminar at church last weekend about finding your purpose in life.  (After a call with a pastor tomorrow, I’ll be more prepared to share the details on that.)

God may have not answered our prayers for a healthy baby just yet, but He’s definitely answered our prayers to show us He’s still there…working His little magic on His timeline!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Free IVF Book Download & No New Information

Yay!  I love free stuff, and I love to read.  This is the best offer of the week.  Sweet Jessah at Dreaming of Dimples is offering a free download of a book to help increase your IVF chances.  I know there is a lot of information on “The Internets” about this subject.  However, if Jessah says it’s a good book, I trust her.  This girl knows IVF!  I'm pretty sure that if she told me that jumping off a bridge would get me pregnant, you would find me floating in the Arkansas River tomorrow.  I’ll be reading this ASAP!  http://www.dreamingofdimples.com/2014/03/how-to-improve-ivf-success-free-download.html

On another note, sorry I’ve been MIA again.  We took the kids skiing in Colorado last week for their Spring Break.  Plus, I feel completely overwhelmed at work.  Hopefully, I’ll be able to do a recap of our trip soon because there isn’t much new information on our IVF journey to write about.  We are still waiting for financial information from Tulsa Fertility Center.  They are trying to put together a package deal for us because this next round is going to be so pricey, and insurance covers a big, whopping 0%-goose egg of our expenses.

Hope everyone in blog world is doing well.  If you’re bored, come on down to Okmulgee, Oklahoma, and help me complete some projects!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Cracked Door

Well, God didn’t quite open or close that door for us on Thursday.  Le sigh.  I’m sorry that I didn’t write earlier, but work has been busy.  Plus, we decided to take a weekend off from IVF.  I must admit, it was pretty fantastic!

Basically, Todd’s testosterone levels came back pretty close to normal.  They measured several hormone levels for me, and the report showed below average.  They are recommending we do several retrieval cycles and bank the embryos that are good.  Then, we’ll do a frozen embryo transfer.  Plus, they are recommending we do genetic testing on the embryos.  What does all of this mean, you might ask?

Well, from what I understand, what will happen is that we will stimulate my ovaries like before with all of the shots, retrieve my eggs, and fertilize them.  All of that will be the same.  Then, on day 3 after fertilization, they will biopsy a single cell of each embryo for the genetic testing.  (More on that in a minute.)  For those that are chromosomally normal, they will either do a fresh embryo transfer or freeze them until we are ready for a transfer.  If they have at least 2 or 3 good ones on the first round, we will probably do a fresh transfer and save some time and money.  However, if they don’t get enough on the first cycle, we’ll start again the next month with stimulating, retrieving, fertilizing, “biopsy-ing.”  We will repeat this cycle until we have 2 or 3 good embryos frozen and then schedule a frozen embryo transfer (FET) for the following cycle I can make.

I was asked a lot of good questions from my bestie today, so I’m putting some of those answers here:

Isn’t a fresh transfer better than a frozen?
Some places, fresh transfers are more successful than frozen, and some places, vice versa.  Most places have started getting much better at frozen transfers, though.  Tulsa Fertility Center has success rates that are equal with fresh and frozen transfers.  Therefore, we aren’t too concerned about that part with them.  We are trusting that they are not misleading us on this.

How quickly can we do the retrievals each time?
The retrievals will hopefully be month after month.  I have to have a period between each one.  However, if my cycle falls at a funny time for when TFC does retrievals, I could end up with one in August and the next in October.  Fingers crossed that doesn’t happen.

What is the genetic testing for?
They will be testing for chromosomal abnormalities.  Basically, any abnormality that can be tested for.  Embryos with abnormalities tend to have less of a chance of becoming a viable pregnancy.

Sometimes, they find an abnormality that they have never seen, and they have to use a geneticist to do research to find out what it means.  They have one couple that is on an estimated 6-month wait to see what their abnormality means because it’s so rare.  The geneticist has put it out on boards and forums across the world to figure out if anyone knows what it means.  We could find out things like the embryo “looks” good to an embryologist but has zero percent chance of being a viable pregnancy.  We could find out that the abnormality will be fatal to a born child.  We could find out that the baby would have Downs Syndrome or Turner Syndrome.  Don’t ask me if we would implant those because I haven’t even begun to think about that, yet.  J  I mean the Downs and Turner embryos.  It’s more than I can bare right now to consider purposefully bringing a child into the world that will absolutely, without a doubt be sterile (Turner).  When she told us what it was, I broke down in the office.  I can’t imagine putting my child through what we are going through just so I can have a baby.  Anyway, I have to move on from that thought for now.

There will be a lot of information from the genetic testing.  It could be very helpful, but it does not guarantee success.  There are so many other issues that could still cause the embabies not to stick.  Le sigh.

Also, the genetic testing only has a 1-3% chance of damaging the embryo.  Not bad odds compared to the others we face.

What is the change in cost from this to what we have done?
The cost goes up to approximately $41,700 for 2 retrievals and 1 frozen embryo transfer from what Todd and I have calculated.  This price is assuming we only do 2 retrievals.  The cost goes up because of the multiple retrievals and shots.  Then, FET is more expensive than fresh transfers because they have a freezing and thawing-out process that has to be added to the mix.  Plus, we have Todd’s process, again.  On top of that, genetic testing is $5,000 for each set of embryos they test.  We will bump our savings plan up to $45,000, so we don’t have any surprises we can’t afford, and I can get relaxation therapy without worrying about the cost of it…plus my vitamins.

I only share the financial information because I know there are some ladies out there that are considering doing this, too.  In my opinion, it’s nice to hear all of the details from someone on our side and in Layman’s terms.

 
Jessah (http://www.dreamingofdimples.com), if you happen to be reading this, isn’t this what you just did at CCRM?  Can you give me any more insight to things I may not be considering?  I have to admit that I’m pretty scared right now!

If anyone else has any other questions, please, leave them in the comments for me.  I want this blog to be full of as much information as possible.

As always, please, pray for us right now.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The results are in...

...dim the lights.  (My American Idol knock-off.)

The results for blood work for both of us came in today.  We got the call that they want to consult with us at 9:30.  We should be finding out how we are both doing on egg/sperm production.  Please, pray for us that God makes this next decision very obvious.  We would like him to swing that door wide open or shut it real hard.

I'll do my best to post tomorrow on what we learned.  Until then...

Seacrest, out!  (See what I did there?)

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Goodbye, 32!

Today is the first day of the rest of my life.  Wow, that was profound.  I can’t believe I just made that up all on my own.  J
I can still remember last year on this day thinking that 32 was going to be the best age of all of them thus far.  It was going to be the year God gave us a baby.  Instead, God had different plans; 32 taught me a lot of lessons…a lot.  I’m pretty sure that 32 was the most difficult age thus far.  Man, I hope that in the distant future, I can say it was the most difficult of my life.

However, today is a new day and a new age.  I can say that I survived 32.  I made it to 33…something special has to happen when you’re repeating digits, right?!  I am officially leaving behind the year of failures and looking forward to a year of new beginnings.  Who’s with me?!
Who knew Taylor Swift was a genius? J
P.S.  Here's to hoping e-cards don't go out of style this year.  I'm kind of addicted.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Third Time is a Charm???

We met the third and final new RE this morning.  We spent over 2 hours at the office with her, her nurses, and the financier.  (I don’t know if financier is accurate, but it sounds fancy.  Actually, I left after being there a little over 2 hours to get back to work, and Todd stayed to meet the fancy financier.  Thanks, honey.)

I would say that we are probably more confused with the same amount of hopefulness (or hopelessness, but I’m trying to see the glass half-full) but possibly headed down a decision path.
Dr. Shauna McKinney from Tulsa Fertility Center was the doctor of the hour today.  I have one friend that just used her in December and is now almost 10 weeks pregnant.  Dr. McKinney basically gave us an entirely new line of information.  I am now 100% certain that there has never been a reproductive endocrinologist share a medical book or train of thought with another reproductive endocrinologist.  Awesome.  <sense my sarcasm>

Here’s a rundown of what I remember learning today:
1.       Dr. McKinney told us that, first of all, my file is not complete from Dr. Bundren.  Thanks, Dr. B’s office for that help.  She said that it makes no sense why I’ve been stimulated with the large amounts of drugs that I have unless there is something they found in my blood work that she doesn’t have.  (This statement is funny for multiple reasons, but the strangest part is that Dr. Douglas in Dallas told us we were on a low amount of drugs, while Dr. Ahlering agreed with McKinney that it was a lot.)  Dr. Mc said she wouldn’t start patients on this amount of stim shots until they were in their 40s unless there was something really wrong with their ovaries.  However, she thinks that because I’m young, was on such high doses, and still only produced 9 and 12 eggs each cycle, I was being overstimulated; which means that my body didn’t know how to react to the high doses and kind of shut down (not the same as hyper stimulation for my IVF friends).  She says I should have been producing 25-35 eggs on those drugs at my age.  Again, awesome.
2.       She believes you can test egg quality to a degree with a blood test.  Dr. Ahlering said that’s not conclusive.  Ugh!  Anyway, she can also test my ovarian production with what they call an Ovarian Assessment Report (OAR).  Fingers crossed that this test is accurate.  I’m just not sure why Ahlering doesn’t believe in it.  I don’t remember what Douglas said about testing egg quality, but I’m pretty sure I have a friend that used him and said he does check it.  Different REs, I tell you!
3.       There is a blood test that can be run to tell what Todd’s testicular production is like.  I don’t really know what all of that means, yet, but it’s something we have never been told before.  Again, maybe this is another test that isn’t conclusive in some doctor’s eyes, but Dr. Mc seems to believe in it pretty strongly.
4.       All I need is a prenatal vitamin.  One of the funniest things she said was that for the last 18 months that I have been taking 21 pills each day, the only thing that was happening was I had $30/day urine.  That’s a lot of wasted money, but at least it made us laugh.
5.       They do not believe in giving sperm a shot of Pentox, which is what Dr. Bundren’s lab used to wake Todd’s sleepy sperm.  She said that they have different tests they can run on the sperm for viability, but they don’t like to give the sperm extra chemicals.
6.       She does have an acupuncturist in Tulsa she is recommending.  She said there are new studies being done on how acupuncture affects IVF.  However, I think she believes in this more for the relaxation than anything.  She said that as long as adding extra appointments to my schedule doesn’t stress me out, I should go for it…acupuncture, massage, yoga, back scratches, mani/pedis, trips to Jamaica…oh, wait, I think I’m getting carried away.
7.       The most interesting piece of information she shared with us is that Dr. Bundren should not have operated on my uterus back in August 2012.  I had a septum in my uterus that my records show measured at 12mm.  Septums should not be touched until they are 2cm, according to Dr. Mc.  Of course, Dr. Bundren would probably say that he has better results with IVF with absolutely no septum present or some other excuse.  However, it’s just interesting to learn that we may have endured 4 months of Lupron-induced menopause for nothing.  Sorry, Todd.  J  Dr. McKinney said she has never seen so many uterine septums as she has in Tulsa.  It’s something in the water.

I think that pretty much sums up our appointment with Dr. McKinney.  She’s a very sweet and patient woman.  She answered a lot of questions and in terms we could understand.  She knows a lot about Dr. Bundren and has dealt with many of his patients.

I don’t know if we really have a feeling about any of the doctors to lean us one way or another.  Picking one is kind of a crap shoot.  However, since Dr. McKinney is so much closer than Douglas and Ahlering, I think we are leaning towards her for right now.  We are both going to have the blood tests (my OAR) completed.  Todd’s will be on the first morning he is in town and hasn’t eaten.  Mine won’t be able to be completed until March. 

Oh, one interesting thing is the charges from these doctors.  Dr. Ahlering gets first place on being the least stingy by not charging us a dime for our consultation.  Dr. Douglas comes in second place with a mere $275.  Dr. McKinney is the nickel-and-dimer at $300 each, meaning $600 total for the consult.  Just an interesting piece of information for anyone considering a consult.

Now, we will just wait until our blood test results are returned.  More waiting, but who isn’t used to that by now?!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Empty Wombs and Empty Arms

I do not write this entry with the intent of it being sad.  I write it with the hope that everyone will remember there are two people in the infertility struggle.  Don’t forget about our partners.
Last night, I was lying in bed thinking about one theme that crosses my mind a lot…how much I love my husband.  It is near impossible for me to put into words how he makes me feel.  I just laid there listening to him breathe so peacefully and thinking about the words I had just heard in a wedding ceremony on TV.  (Yes, I watch The Bachelor and feel no shame. J)  The minister/father spoke about the wedding bands being made of precious metals and rare diamonds, signifying how precious your love for each other is and how rare your commitment to each other is.  Even those words don’t seem to portray how much I love this man.  When I’m with him, I just want to hug him and squeeze him and be intertwined in his arms and legs.  When he’s away, my chest physically feels full with emotion and longing for him.  When he travels, my eyes become leaky at the drop of a hat.  This man consumes me.  He’s my best friend and lover and confidante and soul mate and whatever else you can imagine a couple should be.  My biggest fear is not having enough time together.  My biggest goal is to make him feel respected and happy.  I love him with every fiber of my being.  I literally cannot get enough of him.

I say all of this to emphasize how special he is.  He has given me more than most men can even imagine.  I have not been quiet about telling people that whatever physical pain I have endured through our journey to make Baby Dori, Todd has undergone 10 times worse.  I have heard stories of husbands that won’t even talk about vasectomy reversals or sperm aspirations in order to have a baby with their wife.  Todd’s rare commitment is not lost on me.

The one thing I could never explain to anyone, though, is the emotional pain Todd has also suffered.  Unfortunately, I can’t explain it because I don’t fully understand it.  He is usually pretty good at sharing his feelings with me.  However, his inner need to be a rock for me and fix my problems sometimes hinders his ability to do that in this situation.  I have invited him to write an entry or multiple entries on the blog.  I’m not sure he feels comfortable with this just yet.  I would never pressure him to write on here.

However, there is a man that has written a blog entry from the spouse’s perspective.  If there is only one thing you take away from my entry today, let it be this:  this is not just a journey of the woman.  We may have empty wombs, but our husbands still have empty arms.

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The Disgrace of Infertility
January 10, 2014
By Nate Pyle
ttp://natepyle.com/the-disgrace-of-infertility/

This Christmas I preached through the Christmas story as told by Luke. For all the times I’ve read the story, I’ve never noticed this small line hidden in the middle of the Christmas narrative. But this year was different. This year, that small, innocent line refused to go unnoticed and forced me to see it.

After Elizabeth became pregnant with John, she praised God saying, “The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.”

We know that disgrace. My wife knows that disgrace. I know that disgrace.

Infertility.

No, it isn’t the same type of disgrace that Elizabeth experienced. In that day, an inability to bear children was equated with sin. It was assumed that the reason for barrenness was your own doing. You must have done something. You must have something to repent of. Some sin you committed. Some reason God was withholding his blessing from you.

You.

You created the problem by your disobedience, and now God is punishing you.

Thankfully, the shame of disapproving eyes and rumored gossip doesn’t surround infertility in America anymore. But shame still exists.

Shame grows with constant thermometer readings. Peeing on countless sticks. Needles. Probes. Tiny plastic cups. Forever counting days. Sex that feels mechanical and forced because “It’s time.”

Shame slips in with the silent words spoken as another, month pregnant only with hope, passes by. It is amazing how much silence surrounds the struggle of infertility. The silence of not wanting to talk about it. The silence of wanting to talk about, but being scared. The silence of trying to avoid the one thing you are wondering about, but not wanting to focus on it, and yet having your mind dominated by it. The silence of not feeling comfortable talking with others about it because it involves sex. The silence because you just don’t want to deal with the questions.

That silence gives shame all the voice it needs to whisper silently, “Something is wrong with you.”

Infertility is a shame-filled, silent trial, isolating couples in closed bedrooms of pain.

As a man, the pain of infertility is difficult to talk about it. While my wife and I walked through our experiences together, she felt the pain of not being able to conceive more acutely than I did. Pregnancy was failing to take place in her body. Even though the doctors couldn’t find anything wrong with either of us, she was the one scheduling the monthly ultrasounds. She was the one taking medications. She was the one physically being reminded every 28 days of the failure to conceive. The pain was much closer and much more tangible for her. And all I could do was stand back and watch. I felt hopeless. Unable to do what I normally do when situations aren’t what I want them to be: fix it.

We stood in the kitchen having the same discussion we’ve had every month. The sadness was making Sarah cry and I stood there helpless. I hugged her, but I couldn’t do anything else. I couldn’t fix this. This was out of my control.

Helplessness is not a feeling I do well with.

As I held my crying wife, I didn’t cry, but quietly grieved and pulling back from hope. The grieving brought on by infertility is different than other grief I have experienced because you do not grieve what was lost, but what never was. At some point you start grieving for what never will be.

Men don’t talk often about infertility. My guess is that, if we started the conversations, a lot of guys would feel helpless. When people dream of starting their family, no one sees years of disappointment and frustration as part of the process. No, when we dream of starting our family it is a nice and tidy schedule. “First we will go off birth control, then in 3-6 months we will get pregnant.” Wouldn’t that be nice?

Instead those struggling with infertility find themselves dealing with resignation, bitterness, anger and exhaustion.

Exhaustion from fighting to hold on to hope.

Infertility is a brutal cycle that steps on hands gripping hope. The cycle begins each month with hope only to be followed by disappointment.

Hope.

False alarm.

Hope.

Discouragement.

Hope.

Frustration.

Hope.

Shame.

Hope.

Despair.

At any point in this cycle you are constantly reminded of what you cannot do by running into countless pregnant women in the grocery story, at church, or at the gym.

Church is a good place to find support, but it isn’t always a tower of refuge. The American church is one place in our culture where marriage and kids is an expectation. Singles are constantly met with questions about when they will get married, and unnecessarily pitied or prayed for when a potential spouse isn’t in the picture. Young married’s are bombarded about when they will start having kids, as if their marriage doesn’t really matter until a child validates it.

Around church, having kids is talked about as if it is like scheduling a tune-up for your car. “Isn’t it time the two of you start having kids?” is one of the most painful questions a couple dealing with infertility can hear. Because thats exactly how they feel! It is time for them to start having kids. They’ve been hoping and praying and wanting and waiting for a long time for God to respond to their request. So yes, it is time, but no, kids don’t show up on a time table.

My wife and I struggled for 14 months before we surprisingly found ourselves expecting our now 3 year-old son. We were literally starting to have all the testing done the next month when my wife woke me up with the news that she was pregnant.

So many couples never wake up to that news.

It’s now been over two years that we have tried for another child. Two years and an ectopic pregnancy that we had to end. I’m not writing because my wife and I have discovered some secret to living with infertility. I don’t think there is any. I’m not writing because I have some great pastoral wisdom to help comfort those who are struggling with infertility. In fact, I don’t even know how to end this post. All I have is this:

You are not alone. Your struggle may be in silence, but you are not alone.

I don’t have a magic Bible verse of comfort, or prayer of peace, or words of wisdom, or any answers.

I only have “me too.” Us too. We know. We understand. And we mourn with you.

So may we, together, accept that there is nothing wrong with us and see we are simply sharing in the human experience – which is simultaneously beautiful and painful, disheartening and hopeful.

*****************************************

Words cannot express how much I adore you, Todd Provence.