The Even Keel

In case you noticed the giant lapse in blog entries and wondered why, we had our little girl at the end of January. I actually went into labor on her due date, and our little Engelberta was born the next day. Also, in case you wondered, I am not going to use Engelberta’s real name here. If we are friends, then you have likely already seen her name and pictures on FB a few times. If you are Joe Public reading my blog, I hope you’ll understand that I’d like to give Engelberta some privacy since this isn’t her blog.
If you know me or my husband well, then you know that neither of us are overly excitable people; you know the type – they scream loudly on roller coasters, they squeal with delight upon seeing old friends, and they may actually jump up and down with glee. We, on the other hand, are not quite as demonstrative even though we may feel the same depth of emotion. I am the person who smiles (silently) on a roller coaster and who screams (on the inside) without making more than a little “ha!” noise. Through our whole pregnancy, people constantly asked us if we were excited, and most of them were squealing and/or jumping while asking the question. We always replied calmly that of course we were excited, while the interrogator looked dubiously at our lack of exuberance. I often felt like maybe I SHOULD be physically jumping for joy even though I was jumping, silently, on the inside. Our labor and delivery nurses kept remarking at how calm both of us were through delivery, but we kept laughing and saying, “You don’t go through everything we’ve been through and then freak out over delivering a baby.” You don’t freak out over much at all, actually.
I have realized that one gift the last five years’ events have given me is an extraordinarily even keel. Our circumstances can be all over the map, but my emotions don’t have to live on the peaks or in the valleys. Of course I feel the highs and lows, but my heart is anchored in the hope of Christ, and that gives me a solid place to stand no matter what life throws my direction. God gave us the lows of each miscarriage and the high of this successful pregnancy. The constant in every circumstance is that God gives us himself, and we have found our joy in his presence and not in our circumstances. That is freedom. That is certain knowledge that whatever happens, it is what it is, and it doesn’t define me; God does and what I do in the moment does.

The Bump and I

At just over seven months pregnant, I realize that I am entering the stage of pregnancy where the second trimester glow has come to an end, and the rotund and swollen days of the home stretch are beginning. So it is with great joy that I note that I am still pretty comfortable and not very puffy. I do, however, find myself in hilarious awkward pregnant moments all the time.
Even though I haven’t seen my lap or my belly button in quite some time without the aid of a mirror, I am constantly forgetting that I have a rather large belly to account for. I can no longer perform three point turns with a buggy in grocery store aisles without also doing some goofy doh-si-doh maneuver. Bathroom stalls should come with a “cue laugh track” note in my daily script. Perhaps the funniest is the belly slap, which happens to my husband every time I try to leave the kitchen table at the office before he does. Note: the belly slap is similar to a dope slap but much more awkward for all parties involved. Stated awkwardness is magnified when the slappee is a stranger or mere acquaintance.
We have also reached the point where the number of weeks left is down to single digit range, meaning she’ll be home in a few short months. It’s easy to forget that pregnancy must end at some point, and your new tiny human is going to need a place to sleep and clothes and diapers… I have never mocked the nesting stage, and now I completely understand it. Nesting is a great stage of preparation, and every pregnancy guide will tell you to take advantage of it so you’ll be ready to bring home your baby. I’m sure that there are plenty of hormones at work and other physical explanations, but I am staring at the psychological cause of nesting every day now: it gives you the appearance of some measure of control.
The fact is you can never really be ready for the instant and radical change of adding a child to your family. Of course you know things will change, but it’s virtually impossible to prepare for that shift in your life. This is also the most useless advice that experienced parents give new parents, “Get ready, because everything is going to change.” If you’ve told me this, or if you’ve thought about telling me this, know that I stifle the urge to call you Captain Obvious. At any rate, I’m also stifling the “there’s no way I’m ready for this” panic mode whenever I think about how much will change when our baby girl arrives, so nesting will be great busy work in the interim. But even though I’m peeking over the edge of the panic precipice, as long as I slow down and breathe, I’m not that worried. We have everything we need physically, and God brought us this far – I don’t think he’s going anywhere when the bump gets her birth certificate.

Second Trimester and More Things I Never Thought I’d Get to Say…

We are now well into the second trimester, and each report from the doctor is great!  I know I’ve been strangely quiet on the blog about the pregnancy, but I’ve been weirdly protective of everything related to this baby.  (Okay, maybe not so weird given our history…)  I’ve yet to post ultrasound pictures anywhere, and I’m stingy about who I share them with.  I’ll post pictures at some point soon because I just know everyone wants to see our little alien. 🙂  She does look pretty human now, though, so we’ve outgrown the early stages of “What is that thing?” and “I’m just going to take your word for it…” on the ultrasound pictures.

Yes, that was SHE, in case you haven’t seen it on FB.  We’ll have a little girl joining us at the end of January.  And, no, we haven’t picked out a name yet.  We’re still perusing the name book and waiting to see what fits.  It’s tempting to choose a name that reflects the magnitude of what this little one means to us, but that’s a lot of pressure to saddle a kid with.  “You have to be brilliant and special because we’ve lost so much to get to this point.”  If that won’t create a host of neurotic breakdowns, I don’t know what will.

So while this child is more than we could have hoped for already, I think it’s best for her to be just a normal kid with goofy parents who are sure to embarrass her at every turn.  We’re already set to be the old farts in home room; when our little girl turns sixteen, we’ll be fifty.  That’s a little daunting.  But it’s also a tremendous asset.  I hate that we won’t be young parents, but we don’t have any crazy expectations that parenthood is some sort of magical domestic bliss.  We’re well aware that it is hard work, and we’ve both reached a point in our lives where we choose our battles carefully.  We’ve had to let go of so much already that rolling with the punches is just what you do.

I really want to see “The Odd Life of Timothy Green.”  I won’t watch it for another year or so because I can’t watch the trailer without crying.  They show part of a scene where the parents who have tried desperately to have a child on their own give up.  They write down all of the things that their child would be – funny, smart, kind – and bury it in a box in their garden.  Maybe the rest of the movie is horrible, but that scene is such a great snapshot of what our last five years have been like.  For a week or two at a time, we could dream about what our kid would be like before we had to bury the dream again.  That’s another reason I’ve been oddly quiet: for so long, loss has been our story that it’s hard to write about this amazing gift without feeling like I’m losing sight of where we came from.  I honestly hate that I am one of those stories being bandied about to other women who are struggling with infertility or losses of their own.  “If you just hold on and keep trying, things will work out for you just like they have for my friend…”  There is a time for hope, and there is a time for grief, and I hope that if you feel tempted to use me as an example for a struggling friend that you pause and consider what your friend needs most.  Usually, it’s not the miracle story.

I am under no illusions that this is nothing short of a miracle; we still have no medical explanation for our miscarriages, and there is no reason that this pregnancy has continued where every other one failed except that this is God’s plan.  I still don’t understand it, and I still don’t like most of it, and it certainly wasn’t MY plan.  But this baby is coming at this time in our lives for some reason that only God knows and we will likely never discover on this side of the veil.  If you really must share my story with someone struggling through their own infertility/pregnancy loss hell, I hope that this is what you share: we won’t always understand God’s plan, and we don’t have to understand it or even like it.  We do have to submit our plans and dreams to him and trust him to work out the details in a way that will honor him.  You may not get what you want, but you will always get what you need.  It will never be easy to lay down your own dreams and wait for God to give you new ones, but it’s worth the work and the pain.  I can honestly say that we would have been happy even if God hadn’t blessed us with this pregnancy because we learned to be content and useful where we were no matter what.  I really never thought I would be registering for baby clothes and strollers and toys after IVF didn’t work.  I never imagined that I would ever hear a heartbeat that isn’t my own coming from somewhere inside my belly.  I never thought I’d get to count down the weeks and measure my belly by the things I can no longer see when I look down.  I still have a hard time believing that we are actually telling people, “It’s a girl!”  And she is a miracle; she is a gift that I didn’t expect, but her impending arrival isn’t the greatest gift that this journey has given me – the knowledge that I really can and do trust God no matter what is greater still.

It’s Just God’s Way of Showing You…

Consider this a fair warning type of post. It’s a rare complaint/whine from me, actually. The only comment I’m not fielding very gracefully is, “God is just showing you that he didn’t need you do IVF.” Here’s the fair warning part of the post: I will respond less than tactfully that God didn’t need us to do IVF the first eight times we got pregnant, either, and look how those turned out. Then I will smile and change the subject. Now you know, and knowing is half the battle.

I have heard this well-intentioned statement from a lot of people, and most of them are people that I love dearly. When I told one of my favorite people on the planet about how I was reacting to this, her response was exactly what I tend to think: “No, I almost think you had to do IVF; you had to be willing to do everything. I think that God is showing us he has a tremendous sense of humor and irony.” I love that my friend isn’t afraid to admit that God clearly has a sense of humor (he created me, after all), and he seems to have a flair for the ironic as well. I actually think God laughs when we attribute grander meanings to our circumstances. “That’s just God’s way of saying you’re going to have a boy.” “That’s just God showing you that you should be nice to short people.” “That’s how God shows us that artichokes are the perfect food.”

Of course those are ridiculous examples, and of course there is grander meaning to our circumstances, but I don’t think we know what that grander meaning is most of the time. I think that we rarely guess correctly when we try to guess how every circumstance fits into God’s plan. I think we might even be frustrated to know the answers most of the time; we’d probably be disappointed to know that our suffering wasn’t used as directly as we hoped. God has yet to tell me directly exactly why we had to have nine miscarriages to get to this point. I have no doubt that he has used our circumstances for his glory, but I don’t know why we had to endure all of what we’ve endured. No one does. We may never know.

What I do know is that to claim that this pregnancy is evidence that God didn’t need us to do an IVF cycle or didn’t use our IVF cycle for some part of his plan is malarky. It also trivializes our loss, not just the IVF pregnancy, but each of the eight miscarriages preceding that one. While that is certainly not the intention of my personal prophets, it is the emotional effect of their proclamation. Obviously, God didn’t need for us to do IVF to have a successful pregnancy; just as obviously, it wasn’t God’s plan for us to keep the previous pregnancies. Beyond that, I have yet to meet anyone who has the details about why those things happened the way they did except to say that God has a plan that we can’t always see or understand. That’s just God’s way of showing me that I have to trust him through every trial and every circumstance.

And Baby Makes Three

I haven’t blogged in a few weeks (or three…). The main reason for the blog void has nothing to do with being busy since I’ve mostly been holding the couch down. My blogging is as much a means for me to process my thoughts and emotions as it is a means to communicate, and I have avoided processing anything for almost a month, which is exactly how long I’ve known that I’m pregnant.

The first week was perfect, with great hcg levels that more than doubled. The second week brought cramping and spotting which was painful and scary and frustrating, but the numbers were still good, and our first ultrasound showed all the right pieces and parts in the right places. Last week we got to see the heartbeat, and this week we got to see the heartbeat again and see that our baby is growing just like it should be. I have avoided thinking through most of this process, which probably sounds as unbelievable to you as it is to me.

As introspective as I am, I haven’t let myself think much at all. Over-thinking the spotting in the face of such good test results would have discouraged me, and I might have given up. Over-thinking the heartbeat would have encouraged me to start planning nursery themes and looking forward to baby registries and showers, and I wasn’t ready to throw caution to the wind. I think the psychological term for that is protective pessimism. As much as I haven’t given up, I haven’t felt safe in my hope yet either. Baby steps are in order. (Pun intended…) I realize that saying I can’t abandon all fear of disappointment in the face of God’s new plan for us probably indicates a lack of trust. Instead of running full-tilt into the joys of pregnancy, I’m creeping into it – trying it on for size, testing for each step like a first-time high rope walker.

I trust that God is at work and that there is a plan here (as there has been all along), but I also feel like I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop as if I’m conditioned to expect the worst. I suppose physically, I am. Spiritually, though, I know that there’s really not another shoe. No matter what, God is God, and God is good. So what keeps me from doing cheers and signing up for the weekly baby update app and zapping things at Buy Buy Baby? As much as I truly believe this baby is sticking around, I have a world of experience in loss, so I may not really believe it until a week after the baby is delivered. I suppose I wouldn’t need to dig very deeply to find that there’s a fine layer of guilt not too far beneath the pain. To dive whole hog into pregnancy joy feels like a small betrayal of the babies we’ve lost, as if there was no joy in their presence or as if I might forget them. I know it’s an irrational thought, but grief is not rational.

One of my favorite poems we studied in a lit class I took my senior year in college is “Surprised by Joy” by William Wordsworth. You can find the full text very easily if you search for the title. The theme of the poem is moving on from grief, and the writer is surprised and more than a little guilty to be feeling joy in place of the sorrow and separation. It’s a beautiful poem – I’ve always thought Wordsworth was the most aptly named poet in history – and it much more beautifully than I can sums up the feelings I have about this pregnancy, especially a pregnancy following so closely after our latest miscarriage. If you’re disappointed that I haven’t been more enthusiastic about such great news, give me some time. I’m not much of a squealer to begin with, but I’m sure in a few more weeks I’ll be driving you nuts with baby updates and using lots of exclamation points!!!

For now, to answer a few of the questions I get a lot, we are right at 8 weeks, and our due date right now is January 31, 2013. Although our very first pregnancy technically lasted longer than where we are now, it was a blighted ovum, so having seen the fetal pole and now the heartbeat means that we know this isn’t a blighted ovum. This is the first time we’ve ever been able to see a baby; this is the first time I won’t just be wishing to see a heartbeat – now I can’t wait to hear it!

All the Time

You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing.
You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy,
that I might sing praises to you and not be silent.
O LORD my God, I will give you thanks forever! (Psalm 30:11, 12 NLT)

That pretty much sums up how I feel this week. I may seem a little quiet compared to some of my friends about praising God for our good lab work. Let me pause right here and say, God deserves all the credit and glory for continuing to give us good news about this pregnancy. Let me continue by adding that he deserves all the glory from every situation in my life, including the losses. Any good that has come from that pain has all come from him. Any good that comes from continuing this pregnancy will all come from him.

I hope that my faith has been acted out in my life plainly enough that anyone reading this would know that my faith is in God all the time. I have been exhorted more than once this week to remember that God can do anything and that we should never doubt his power. If I didn’t forget that through nine pregnancy losses, I’m not going to forget it now. What I don’t want to happen is for my focus to shift from relying on God to letting my faith rest on what he can do for me. I don’t want anyone else to be shaken in their faith if our desired and prayed for outcome doesn’t come to be. I praise God for keeping me whole and sane and for giving me great news about this pregnancy. I will not stop praising God if our good news changes – “O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever!” No matter what.

This has to be your prayer, too, if you are praying for me. I would love nothing more than to find twins on our ultrasound in a few weeks; I would love nothing more than to see a single heartbeat; I would love nothing more than to experience a complete pregnancy and hold a squirmy baby early next year. Any part of that dream coming true would be a blessing from God; none of it is a measure of his love for me. We tend to be if-then thinkers: if God gives me a baby this time, he loves me a lot. Wrong. There is no if-then with God except that he loves us, and IF we accept the sacrifice his son made as the ultimate sacrifice for our sins, THEN we become his children and will live to praise him forever. The good things he gives us are gifts – wholly undeserved, and absolutely no reflection of any goodness we may have demonstrated in our lives.

This baby is already a gift from God; born or unborn it’s his creation, and it’s part of my life forever. Have no doubt that I am giving God the glory for this gift and our joy. Have no doubt that God is good all the time, when you can see his good gifts – like our lab work this week – but even when it hurts, even when you’ve lost, and even when you mourn. ALL the time, God is good.

Good News, Bad News, and More Waiting

So we have some good news: the pregnancy test is positive. The bad news is it’s just barely positive. The hcg level is low, which is not a good sign, but I go back for a recheck on Wednesday. To paraphrase the nurse who called, we don’t see a lot of numbers this low that work out, but we have to wait and see. I love the staff at Alabama Fertility Specialists – they do a difficult job with grace and sincere concern for their patients. That’s a rare gift for couples like us, especially if you’ve dealt with difficult circumstances like our multiple miscarriages at a regular OB/GYN office.

I’m glad to have the positive test result no matter what happens from here. Regardless of the outcome here, we’ll have a better idea how to proceed and when to change directions. Positive, no matter how faint, means that we have made every attempt medically possible to ensure a good outcome. If things don’t end with a healthy pregnancy this time, we’ll have the benefit of a great doctor’s expertise on whether to try IVF again or not, and we’ll be able to walk away from this path without any doubts. If things stay positive, then we’ll have an exciting path to walk right now. Either way, God has answered our prayers through this particular journey with a positive pregnancy test, and he’ll lead us to the next step.

I keep (sort of) joking that a positive pregnancy test is akin to Gideon’s fleece prayers (see Judges 6 – I LOVE this story!). I have been telling God that I really need a positive test no matter the end result because if it works, that’s a great and immediately answered prayer; if we still miscarry, then I’ll be content to walk away. People keep telling me stories about couples who start to adopt and then have successful pregnancies. Usually these stories are prefaced with, “They had a hard time, just like you guys…” I hate these comments with a passion that’s hard to describe. Adoption has always been an option for us, but I want to pursue it wholeheartedly, without any part of me thinking that it’s a consolation prize. Essentially, I need God to close the other doors if he’s not going to audibly tell us, “Go forth and adopt a child.” We are reaching that point, and I’m excited to see what God is up to. It has to be spectacular because he’s spent a long time preparing us. We could not have even tried IVF a few years ago – our marriage wouldn’t have weathered the added strain, and I would have been a neurotic, depressed mess before we even got potentially bad news like today’s. But we not only survived the IVF process but also grew through it: my darling husband has become an expert with a hypodermic needle, and our marriage is stronger than ever.

I would never have imagined this would be part of our story. Sometimes I think I’d like to change our story, but then I know we’d be missing out on something God designed. Waiting patiently isn’t exactly my forte, but I keep finding myself in this wait-and-see mode. We managed the first two-week wait; now we’re in for the real two-week wait in our story. And my fleece is waiting.

To Tell or Not to Tell

Some of you may think we’re crazy to tell people as soon as we know we’re pregnant, and maybe you’re right.  Most couples wait until they have solid news to report: a heartbeat, the completion of a successful first trimester, and ultrasound picture…  We don’t wait because we never know if we’ll have anything other than a positive pregnancy test to report, and we don’t want to wait for you to start praying.  Less than 1% of the population experiences recurrent miscarriages (three or more), and we are the 1%. (Insert Occupy joke of your choice here…)

The average couple doesn’t have to face the thought that they probably won’t have a successful outcome, even if they’ve experienced a miscarriage.  We do – every time.  Given that we want the troops out in force praying for us, we always talk about it but come to the same conclusion to tell immediately.  Plus, we’re very bad at keeping secrets about ourselves, so if someone asked about my switch to half-caf or decaf, I wouldn’t think before responding that pregnant people shouldn’t have too much caffeine.  I probably risk sharing too much most of the time, but I’d rather over-share than find myself in the miserable place of a few years ago where I was too afraid to talk to anyone.

Besides the prayer support, I would rather people know that we have loved and lost than wonder why I’m being such a crank.  Not telling people about the pregnancy and possibly the subsequent miscarriage would feel a lot like losing a close family member and never telling anyone that they even existed.  I prefer having the emotional support and understanding when I feel like I’m losing my mind during the grieving process than leaving a wake of emotional outbursts behind for people to wonder about.  At least now if I burst out crying at a Lego commercial (it’s happened) you can chalk it up to grief rather than mental defect (I have plenty of those, too…).

The down side of telling everyone immediately is dealing with the aftermath if things don’t work out.  News travels pretty fast, but in our situation there are people who will find out about the pregnancy a month after we’ve already lost it.  It’s awkward to tell someone who’s congratulating you that there’s nothing left to congratulate.  I also tend to feel ridiculous for telling everyone we’re expecting only to tell them a week later that it’s over.  There’s no reason for me to be embarrassed about it, but that’s always my first reaction.  I always think that people will think we’re silly for sharing so soon.  That feeling evaporates almost as quickly as it appears because of the wonderful support and encouragement we get from our family and friends.

For us, telling before we have solid proof of a viable pregnancy is the best option, but it may not be for everyone.  If you find yourself in a similar situation, you’ll have to decide what you’ll be comfortable with.  I find it easier to share now than I did a few years ago, and the openness has helped me tremendously.  But there are plenty of folks who just aren’t comfortable with sharing personal details, and that’s perfectly fine.  Just make sure that you have a small network of friends you can trust and who will support you.  Do not attempt to deal with the grief alone; even superheroes need help on occasion – you are no exception.