0292016

IVF, Personhood, and a Story of Infertility

I don’t have an exciting infertility story.  We had one kid easily. And then we couldn’t get pregnant again.  I took lots of medicines that made me a little fat and a lot crazy, I pee’d on a lot of sticks, I cried a lot, I had a minor surgery, we had 6 failed IUI’s (intrauterine insemination, where they place the sperm directly in the uterus and hope for fertilization), I prayed a lot, I was finally diagnosed with crappy egg quality, and that left us with our best option being IVF (In Vitro Fertilization, where an egg is fertilized in a petri dish, and then a healthy embryo–or two, depending on your odds of implantation–is placed into the uterus).

So yes, I love my 4 frozen little embryos and I think about them a lot. But do I believe they’re alive? No. They need me–or another willing mother–for that. Do I believe they have the same rights that my living children have? No. But those who proposed the Personhood Bill seem to feel otherwise. They would lead you to believe that it’s just about abortion, but it’s not. The language of the bill would make IVF virtually impossible.

If you support the Personhood Bill, you are against the very thing that allowed my children to be born.

Read the whole story below and at https://cabernetandbreastmilk.com

I don’t have an exciting infertility story. You probably didn’t even know we struggled with infertility. Although since we have twins, you’ve wondered. Some of you have even asked me in your own polite way. Were you surprised? Do twins run in your family? Did you know you were having twins? I do have a story, but it isn’t exciting. We didn’t try for years and years to get pregnant. I, thankfully, didn’t have miscarriage after miscarriage. Our story is simple: We had one kid easily. And then we couldn’t get pregnant again. We saw a team of doctors, I took lots of medicines that made me a little fat and a lot crazy, I pee’d on a lot of sticks, I cried a lot, I had a minor surgery, we had 6 failed IUI’s (intrauterine insemination, where they place the sperm directly in the uterus and hope for fertilization), I prayed a lot, I was finally diagnosed with crappy egg quality, and that left us with our best option being IVF (In Vitro Fertilization, where an egg is fertilized in a petri dish, and then a healthy embryo–or two, depending on your odds of implantation–is placed into the uterus). When all this was happening, I didn’t talk about it. Not because I was ashamed, but because I didn’t want to answer all the questions. Some women speak of being ashamed of their infertility, of feeling like less of a woman, or a failure. I never felt that way. I didn’t talk about it because I didn’t want the looks of pity. I didn’t want every. single. conversation I had to be about my uterus. I didn’t want my friends to be uncomfortable, not knowing what to say. I didn’t want to not be thinking about it for a moment, only to be reminded when some well-meaning friend asked me how I was doing: How are you? No, really, how ARE you? And I didn’t talk about it because I didn’t want to hear your opinion. You’ll get pregnant when you’re not trying. Relax! It’s all God’s plan. Relax! Just be thankful you already have one kid. I didn’t talk about it because we decided to do IVF and I knew how controversial that could be. I didn’t want to know how my friends would feel about it because I knew I would cut them out in a heartbeat if they challenged me on it. I can tolerate many differences of opinion, but don’t bring my children into it. I thought it was better to not know how they felt than to lose friends. And eventually I didn’t talk about it because it wasn’t just my story to tell anymore. I had two sweet babies on the way and maybe they wouldn’t want their beginnings told to everyone. But it’s different now. It’s been a real learning experience for me. I’m proud of my babies and I want them to be proud of themselves. I want them to know how wanted they were, how loved they are. They were loved before they ever existed. IVF was hard. It was difficult financially, it was difficult emotionally, and it was difficult physically. I almost changed my mind a lot during the weeks that directly proceeded the beginning of the process. I was terrified–not of the money, or the medicines, or the injections. I was terrified because I knew we only had this one last shot. Up until those moments, I always believed I would get pregnant again, that it was just a matter of time. But IVF was our final answer, and if it failed, I knew I’d have to close a door I wasn’t ready to close. j-mommy We went to the beach the week before we were scheduled to start the treatments. I cried the entire car ride home, knowing my life was about to go one direction or the other, and I had no control over it. It was so emotional, so scary, it brings me to tears even now, more than a year removed from it. We made a stop at a local produce stand on the way home. The lady who ran it also sold jewelry and I found a bracelet that said, The Lord will fight for you. You need only be still. I bought it and I wore it every day throughout my IVF treatment. I believed it. As the treatment progressed, my body didn’t respond the way it was “supposed to.” There was talk of only 1 possible egg to attempt fertilization and implantation with, there was talk of no eggs at all, there was talk of a failed cycle. I was given the difficult choice of deciding whether or not to halt the cycle and try again, but that would mean thousands of dollars more and we just couldn’t afford it. The Lord will fight for you. You need only be still. We pressed on. I gave myself injections for 12 days and went to the doctor almost daily to check the progress and to make sure I didn’t hyper-stimulate my ovaries. There were tears and screaming and laughter and anticipation and praying. Lots of that. And there was a doctor I grew to love so much because she gave me hope when I was at my lowest. And finally, there were eggs! 9 of them! On a Friday afternoon, my doctor went in and took them. egg-retrieval And early on a Saturday morning, she called to tell me they all fertilized. All of them. Nine fertilized eggs! Nine embryos. Because my odds of pregnancy were low, we transferred two embryos to my uterus. embryo-transfer Twins weren’t the goal–a healthy single pregnancy was the goal. But I loved those 2 embryos from the moment I knew they existed. b-s As much as the thought of twins scared me, I couldn’t possibly wish for one to not implant. When I got my first positive pregnancy test, I was shocked. pregnant I’d seen so many negatives, I wasn’t actually expecting that positive. I hit my knees and cried harder than I’d cried throughout the entire struggle. I cried for hours, sitting right there on my bedroom floor. And when I was done, I finally knew everything was going to be okay. So when we went for our first ultrasound and saw two babies, but only 1 heartbeat, I wasn’t overly worried. I knew that second heartbeat would be there next time. I knew we’d have two healthy babies. I knew there was a chance Baby B wouldn’t make it, but I felt at peace. S&B The Lord will fight for you. You need only be still. And when we went back a week later, I breathed a huge sigh of relief when the doctor smiled and showed us that second heartbeat. And then I froze in fear when she told us that Baby B split and was now Baby B and Baby C. Triplets. She wasn’t happy about it, and I can’t say I was either. Baby B and Baby C were mo-mo twins and the risks that caused for all three babies were great. So when she confirmed that Baby C had no heartbeat, I felt another moment of relief wash over me. And in the very next instant, I felt the worst kind of remorse for feeling that relief. But I couldn’t deny that I felt it. It took months into my pregnancy before it really hit me that I had my first and only miscarriage during an otherwise successful pregnancy. But when it hit me, I mourned that loss hard. And sometimes now when I look at B and I can see what his identical twin would have looked like, I mourn the loss again. So now we have 3 healthy boys and we debate whether or not we might want a 4th one day. The other thing we have is 4 frozen embryos, just waiting for us to choose what to do with them. And I love them. How can I not love them? If I loved S and B before they were conceived–and I did–are the 4 frozen embryos not the same? They too were very much wanted, but it was luck of the draw, survival of the fittest. S and B developed first and appeared to be the highest quality, so they made the cut. But truly, it could have been any of them. I look at S and B and think, what if you were frozen? What if I had some other kid in your place? So yes, I love my 4 frozen little embryos and I think about them a lot. But do I believe they’re alive? No. They need me–or another willing mother–for that. Do I believe they have the same rights that my living children have? No. But those who proposed the Personhood Bill seem to feel otherwise. They would lead you to believe that it’s just about abortion, but it’s not. The language of the bill would make IVF virtually impossible. IVF is expensive and hard on the body. Couples don’t just jump straight to it as an answer when they can’t grow their family. But because it’s so expensive, the goal is often to produce as many healthy eggs in one cycle as possible. Those eggs are then fertilized in a lab for about 5 days before the healthiest of the embryos are transferred to the mother’s uterus. Any remaining embryos are then frozen, giving the couple a chance to get pregnant in the future if the first transfer doesn’t result in pregnancy, a miscarriage occurs, or if the couple wishes to have more children in the future. The Personhood legislation pushes the idea that life begins at fertiliztion. If that legislation passes, the legality of the procedures we used to get our beautiful sons would be called into question. If the Personhood Bill passes, anything that puts an embryo at risk could be a criminal violation. If an embryo from an IVF cycle doesn’t develop normally (3 of ours didn’t), could the physician, lab, or patient be criminally liable? Would IUI’s be criminal violations because they carry a higher risk of miscarriage? Would women with health problems such as fibroids or other uterine problems be forbidden to attempt pregnancy because the risk of miscarriage is too great? Would women who suffer ectopic pregnancies be allowed to receive life-saving treatment, or would the embryo’s legal rights take precedence? What about the embryos that have already been created from IVF? What about my frozen embryos? Will I still have the right to transfer one or more to my uterus in the hopes of implantation and birth? Or does that run too much of a risk for the embryo? Do I think it will pass? It’s been previously submitted for consideration many times before, and each time has died in committee without a vote, so no, I don’t think it will pass this time either. But I’m furious it’s even been introduced again. And I’m furious with anybody who supports it. I said before that I didn’t want to know people’s opinions on IVF because I didn’t want to lose friends over it. Well, I’m ready to do that if I have to. If you support the Personhood Bill, you are against the very thing that allowed my children to be born. And if you’re against my children, you are no friend of mine. For the record, we don’t know yet what we’re going to do with our 4 remaining embryos. But we think about it, we talk about it, we pray about it. It is an important decision to us. We know that our hopes for them is that they’re eventually transferred to a uterus in hopes of implantation and birth. We just can’t decide if we want to transfer one more for ourselves, or if we want to adopt all of them out to another couple. Regardless, our embryos will have a chance at life. But as much as I love them, as much as they mean to me, they are not lives now. Resolve, the National Infertility Association, works to ensure that all people who face challenges to grow their family are “empowered by knowledge, supported by community, united by advocacy, and inspired to act.” They’re a non-profit, 501(c)(3) organization certified under the National Health Council Standards of Excellence. If you’d like to contribute or be involved, you may find ways to do so here and here.

0262016

Steady As She Flows

A few years ago, I moved to New York City and began a whole new life. I never lived in a particularly large city and was intrigued. Shorty after arriving, my periods got quite heavy. My menstrual cycle has always been uncomplicated so this was slightly alarming. It got to the point where I was bleeding heavily not just on my period week but every single day. I worried about leaking through a regular sized tampon if I was stuck underground for more than an hour in the subway. Menstrual cups do not work well for me and the amount of tampons I was going through got to be kind of crazy. My income was low but I was lucky enough to have a new, patient boyfriend that had access to an endless supply of free tampons at his college.

Working as a nanny with no health insurance, before the Affordable Care Act came into effect, I turned to Planned Parenthood. They had me sign up for Medicaid in order to be a able to help. I had no idea how long it would take to get an appointment but should have assumed just as much with a city of eight million people, almost half of which are living below the poverty line. After multiple visits to different Planned Parenthood physicians, I was sent to a specialist for a vaginal ultrasound. The results showed nothing abnormal and I was diagnosed with menorrhagia without a cause.

I was advised to get back on the birth control pill in order to control the periods, which I did, but it took some trial and error. The dose I needed was a stronger one, and the whole process of the first appointment to finally getting the correct amount of hormones took about a year. That year was stressful, as I was still learning how to get around the city, scrambling to find jobs, and taking care of this new, bloody issue.

To complicate things even further, I was repeatedly kicked off Medicaid every two months for no reason. Constantly re-applying and attempting to get ahold of someone at the Medicaid office was a complete nightmare, finally escalating to me appealing in front of a judge. My income had stayed the same and I was definitely eligible for the care I was receiving. I presented the judge with a two-inch thick, stack of paperwork I had collected from Medicaid disputes. I was extremely luck in getting a female judge. She asked me why it was so important for me to be on this insurance and I showed her a note from a gynecologist, stating that I have menorrhagia. She took one look at it and immediately dismissed my case, allowing me to stay on the insurance with no more issues, at least for the next year.

I think it is important to point out that since this issue, I still have not been offered health insurance by a company that I have worked for on the books. Many people may not realize the Affordable Care Act states that small businesses with less than fifty employees do not have to offer health insurance. In New York City, ninety percent of all businesses are those that have less than fifty employees. It is almost impossible to receive health insurance or any benefits while working in this city. The Affordable Care Act is definitely a necessary step in order to provide care to those in need, but it needs to be revised, and quickly

0242016

The Challenges of a Breastfeeding Mother

In the early, sleep deprived days of being a new mother, I faced many challenges. The first big one came about pretty early on. One day my milk was leaking like crazy, a couple of weeks later my milk supply had nearly dried up. My daughter was very slow to gain weight because of the breastfeeding challenges, and she was diagnosed with “failure to thrive”. A pediatrician basically gave us two days to show significant weight gain, or we were heading back to the hospital and they were going to tube feed my daughter. We had already been supplementing with formula, but apparently not enough. My partner and I started to keep a log of how many ounces we were feeding. The doctor suggested 24-30oz of formula to get her weight up to an acceptable level and prevent hospitalization. My midwife suspected tongue tie and referred me to a lactation consultant. We started working closely with the LC to try to bring my supply back up. My daughter’s Frenulum was clipped, and we saw some significant changes with the latch, but my supply was still really low. I tried all the recommended herbs and galactalgouges (a food or drug that promotes or increases the flow of a mother’s milk), until I smelled of a pancake house. Fenugreek, one of the highly recommended herbs causes you to smell like maple syrup. None of the herbs really seemed to be helping enough. I also pumped like crazy to try to increase my supply, and the results were so depressing. My lactation consultant informed be of a few pharmaceuticals that have the side effect of “increased milk supply”. In my state of grief and anxiety, the one she suggested as the most effective, with the least negative side effects and lowest transfer rate was called Domperidone. Domperidone had been recently banned by the FDA, because it caused cardiac issues in people in the seventies that were predisposed to cardiac issues. There were no negative side effect for healthy lactating women, except increased milk supply, which is exactly what I needed. Reglan, which IS FDA approved, had side effects of depression, anxiety, sleep disturbances, and a much higher transfer rate. Definitely not side effects that a new mother needs to endure. I recently read a story of a mother that had been prescribed Reglan, committed suicide, leaving behind her partner and 4 month old child. Just heartbreaking. Because of the FDA ban, my lactation consultant, told me that I had to obtain the medication from England, Australia, or Canada. She gave me that address of an online pharmacy that carried the medication and told me I would need a prescription from my midwife. I got all the necessary things in order and placed my order. The drug took two weeks to arrive, and after about a week or less I started to notice an increase in my milk supply. I was still pumping like crazy, the increase was gradual, but eventually I was able to decrease the amount I was supplementing until I no longer needed to supplement. The Domperidone was my last hope and it worked wonders. Many tears later I was able to exclusively breastfeed my daughter like I had planned all along. I’m not saying it is the miracle drug that works for everyone, but it worked wonders for me. During the first sleep deprived months, I thought why would the FDA deny this medicine to a healthy lactating woman? I had all kind of hair-brained conspiracy theories running through my head. To this day I still believe that the formula lobbyists, and the politicians that seek to control women’s bodies, are partially behind the ban. For one, the drug is cheaper than supplementing with formula. Perhaps there is no connection, but a big part of me still believes there is. I feel fortunate that I had the resources in my community to gain access to the medication I needed to breastfeed my daughter. She just turned one approximately a month ago and we are still nursing. Our nursing relationship is mutually comforting. My daughter will be fussy or upset, and I will nurse her and she will be comforted almost instantly. My partner and I call it checking in. If my story can help any mother struggling with the challenges of breastfeeding, I will be a happy mama. Oh yeah, regardless of if you supplement or breastfeed, please never forget that you are an incredible mama! Being a mother is the most challenging and rewarding job I have ever had. I wish it were more valued in our society, we are only raising the future generation!

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I have never had any form of discrimination or anything like that. My story isn’t heart wrenching or horrible just more of a pain in the ass. As a single mother going back to school I don’t make enough to afford insurance. Alabama did not take the Medicaid expansions so that doesn’t help either.  Until I graduate and get a better job, I just try really hard not to get sick. A few years ago Alabama also decided to shut down the majority of Planned Parenthood clinics in the state. I think there might be one or two left but I’m not sure. That had been my only way of seeing anyone about gyn issues. Thanks to the state and the ever so lovely republicans running it, I haven’t seen a doctor in a good four or five years. Nothing bad has happened. I just keep hoping it stays that way.