Wednesday, September 17, 2014

There You Are!

Today we saw the first picture of what will be our baby - meaning, we couldn't see the little bug itself, but saw the sac that it's being created in. It was like a little dark pea right in the middle. She pointed out the "yolk" and the "donut" and said the lining looked beautiful, my numbers are beautiful, and the growth looks great. I teared up and started to feel my first real attachment to THIS baby, not just the idea of a baby-to-come. It was an amazing moment, looking at it together, knowing it was in there safe and sound. Getting all these early sonograms is an up side to our involvement with a fertility clinic!

Two weeks til the heartbeat. The six days between our scare and today felt sooo long, but I have a feeling this next two weeks is going to be even worse! My best friend gave me a book called Fearless Pregnancy that has a doctor and a midwife break down the irrationality behind a lot of warnings well-meaning people and books will give you. One of the things discussed is the three-month-wait and how actually it should be like a seven-week-wait because once you hear the heartbeat, you have less than a 2% chance of miscarrying. That is very reassuring, but also makes me super eager to get to that point! This feels like such a fragile two weeks.

Monday, September 15, 2014

"The Pregnancy Journal"

My dear friend and coworker, who has been such a support throughout this journey, sent me "The Pregnancy Journal" by A. Christine Harris. It looks like a spiral-bound notebook and tells me what is happening on each day of the pregnancy, and then gives me places to make comments, notate my weight and waist size, check off symptoms, etc. It's fascinating to read every day what is happening inside my body - and also to be able to log a little bit about what's going on. So perfect for me!

Before going into the day-by-day descriptions, there are questions to answer to help you process everything. I enjoyed answering them, and want to share them here.

Was your pregnancy planned or a surprise?
Planned to the utmost!

When did you begin to think about having this baby?
For so many years! But real planning began in July 2013.

When did you first suspect you were pregnant?
The day before our blood test because my breasts were slightly swollen - but didn't believe it!

When your pregnancy was confirmed, how did you react?
I shrieked and ran to Nicole, then soon started trembling and crying. I was in such happy shock!

How long did it take to become pregnant? Did it seem quick or slow?
Slowww! It took six months, five very expensive cycles, and two donors.

What is the best thing about being pregnant?
Knowing my body is capable of partnering with God to create life, being treated so special, imagining what our family will be like, feeling the changes in me

What challenges do you foresee with this pregnancy?
Medical complications due to my high blood pressure and slightly high blood sugar. Adoption process for Nicole. Hearing ignorant, offensive, or otherwise hurtful remarks and questions.

Who were the first to know you were pregnant and what were their reactions?
Our parents and siblings, our clergy, and our close friends who have supported us all along the way. They were surprised and ecstatic!

What was the first thing you bought specifically for this baby?
Nicole bought a "Lil Mets Fan on Board" car sticker a few years ago!

What hopes and dreams do you have for your baby?
I want our baby to be happy, healthy, and whole. I want our child to learn from their mistakes and not be defeated by them. I want our child to be kind and compassionate and be committed to making the world a better place in whatever way they are called to do so. I want him/her to always feel LOVED.

What are the most important qualities you can nurture as a parent?
Finding balance between firmness and flexibility, being unconditionally affectionate, letting your child learn through their own exploration and experience, providing consistency and guidance.

What were the best things about your parents as parents?
Their love for each other, their high expectations of us, their playfulness and affection, their focus on family as first priority.

What role do you see your family playing in your baby's life?
Support, extra hands when we need help, traditions, giving our child a sense of deep belonging and being surrounded by love and adoration.

Have you picked any names? What names would you consider?
I don't want to say yet because we have only just scratched the surface of that discussion!

Are there names to which you would say, "Absolutely not!"?
Probably a ton.

Do you want to know as soon as you can if it's a girl or a boy? Why or why not?
No - finding that out at birth is one of the few special surprises left in life - and it doesn't matter!

What one thing do you want your baby to be sure to have that you didn't?
Stability - one neighborhood, one school, one synagogue, friends for life.

Whose facial and physical characteristics do you want your baby to inherit?
Nicole, to keep people from just assuming I was the one pregnant.

Whose emotional and personality characteristics do you want your baby to inherit?
The best of both! Loyalty, compassion, reason and passion balanced, playfulness, commitment.

What tasks do you need to accomplish before the baby is born?
Pay off the credit card we used for this cycle. Secure daycare. Enjoy our final months as a family of two - go to a show, spend time in the city, take a trip that we wouldn't do with a child. Read and learn a lot! Start adoption process with a lawyer. Create wills.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Early Symptoms

I will be five weeks on Monday, and I read on my WebMD pregnancy app (which has really cool images and facts about each week - the science of pregnancy, not the fluff, though I have an app for that too) that this week is the most important as far as influencing the creation of the gestational sac and how it will support and nurture my baby. So I'm taking a week-long vacation from Flonase. My doctor said it would only be an issue if you were injecting it into your uterus, but that it stays in your nasal passages and it's better for my baby that I'm breathing well and getting enough oxygen. He said his own wife used Flonase throughout all her pregnancies. I tried anyway about a month ago to see if I could go without it, to see if Zyrtec by itself would be sufficient to manage my allergies, and I made it about four or five days before I became miserable with sneezing and congestion. I know the benefits should outweigh the risks when considering any medication in pregnancy, and clearly that is the case here, but I want to try to make it through week five without it. Just that one crucial week, and then I'll return to my regular medication regimen.

In the meantime, my symptoms are few but severe, which is comforting. I welcome anything that reminds me I'm pregnant and lets me know that things are probably going the way they should be. My breasts have been tender and my nipples sore since Monday, and it's only gotten worse by the day. I know that as my body adjusts to the rising hormone levels, that will decrease, but until then it's reassuring. Nicole asks me every couple of hours, "They still hurt, right? Good." We are both comforted by these signs. They're also quite a bit bigger, which I'm thoroughly enjoying since I've never made it past a B cup (and that's only because I'm wide enough that they don't have A cups in my size, or else I could probably fit into that) so it's nice to look down and see them filling out.

I've had a few smell sensitivities. My first was before the positive test, and actually the day that I had broken down crying because I was convinced I wasn't pregnant. My coworker came into my office with her lunch, and I said, "ughhh, what is that smell??" She was a bit insulted and said, "it's just beef! Hibachi beef." I apologized for my reaction but wanted to gag as the odor filled my office. Then the Tuesday after finding out, someone brought ribs into our team meeting and the smell grossed me out.

Yesterday's incident was the craziest, though. I was taking a shower and suddenly smelled old, wet towels. I guess that's mildew. I looked around to see if there were old towels around, and there weren't. It was so overpowering that I couldn't just finish showering. I was on a mission: must find and eradicate the source of this odor! It wasn't until I was sniffing every surface of the shower that I realized this wasn't normal, and also that it's not something that would have built up overnight, so why wouldn't I have noticed it yesterday if it was so strong today? I finally identified the source of it, where the sliding glass doors overlap, and I scrubbed those areas down until they smelled beautiful and I could focus on my shower again.

I didn't intend for my blog to be a "pregnancy journal," but it's going to serve that purpose as well since I want to remember this experience.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Our Big Scare

What a roller coaster this week has been!! We took the pregnancy test Friday night and called our families while shaking and crying. Saturday we went to the doctor for bloodwork so they could make it official, and on our way back, we stopped by the temple to catch our rabbi before Torah study so we could shriek with her excitedly and hug her. We knew her time was short so we kept it brief, and then I followed up with an email giving her a lot more details and saying this is what we wanted to gush about with her if we'd had thirty minutes or so instead of two. Then we told select friends who have been super supportive and deserve not to have to wait three months to share in our joy when we've been dragging them into our frustrations and anxieties for the last six.

We had a few days of bliss like this. Six days, to be exact. Then last night, I went to the bathroom and a dark red blob just fell out of me and into the toilet. I felt it go and my heart sank when I looked down because there wasn't blood anywhere else (as I assume there would be for typical spotting), just this blob that just had to be the gestational sac because what else could it be?? Nicole and I ran a gamut of emotions together. We saw the disappointment of all the things we had dreamed of - the clothes my mother had already purchased excitedly for her future grandchild, how perfect the birth date/month was for my maternity leave, how pregnant I would be for certain events and holidays. Then we felt the weight of the $3000 we still owe for the $4000 procedure and how we would pay that off AND save up again in a reasonable amount of time. And then we felt the emotional loss of losing this potential, this budding of life that we were trying so hard to nurture into someone who would join our family.

I tried to accept it at first, saying, "There's nothing we can do about it, it is what it is," and "At least I know I'm capable of getting pregnant now." Within twenty minutes, the shock had subsided and I just felt so devastated. I began shaking and crying, for the exact opposite reasons that I had been just six days earlier.

I called the on-call service and a nurse immediately answered. She was one from my office so she knew me right away and was so sweet and reassuring. She told me there are a million things it could be and I shouldn't panic yet. She told me to come in at 7:30 for a sonogram and bloodwork but that I should relax and not worry all night. You can guess how well I was able to follow that advice. I spent at least an hour Googling "four-week miscarriages" to try to find descriptions from people of what it looks and feels like. Most described it as a white sac with blood vessels running through it, and lots of blood overall. Not what I witnessed, but it didn't comfort me.

At the sonogram, my doctor said she couldn't see the gestational sac because it's too soon. (I'm scheduled for my 5-week sonogram next week.) She saw one tiny dot that COULD be that, because it stayed still while the rest of the tiny dots moved as the wand moved, but she couldn't at all be sure. She did say that everything else looked good - lining still thick, no bleeding in the lining, no fluid on the uterus, nothing to make her think that something had gone wrong.

I waited anxiously at work all day before getting the call after 1:00 that my hcg levels were normal. In the meantime, I had poured my heart out to a couple of my friends at work, and one of them, a mother of two, shared that she had had four miscarriages. She said even very early miscarriages are like the worst period of your life, and that there's no way I had miscarried if I didn't feel severe cramping and have lots of bleeding. She said, "It doesn't just 'ploop' out of you that smoothly. You wouldn't be at work today if you had miscarried believe me." This was very reassuring.

So I'm 90% reassured. I read a lot into every back cramp, thinking it feels worse and this must be it, here it comes, I'm about to miscarry. But I do believe it's in there right now. I think. I hope. I won't feel fully okay until I see it on sonogram next Wednesday. But I think I'll be okay til then.

We have gone from the heights of ecstasy to the depths of despair to cautious optimism in less than a week's time. This little bug is giving us a run for our money!

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Secret Cycle

We kept this cycle private, so I'm writing about it as I go and will publish it all at once afterward, for better or worse.

Sunday August 10
At a cousin's wedding reception, I said something to my wife about having told most people that we aren't trying again until about December, while I secretly hope that we can try maybe in October but be able to keep it secret. My ever-practical, super money-conscious wife said, "Let's just do it. Put it on your credit card and we'll figure it out." I said, "Can we really?? If you're not 100% serious, tell me now, because I'm going to get this ball rolling!" We decided not to tell anyone so there's no pressure. What we saw as support the first four times now feels a little more stressful as we begin a fifth cycle. Fifth. It typically happens within three if it's going to happen, and doctors are talking IVF at this point. We're stressed and broke. And I just don't think we can emotionally handle constantly updating people and having them check in. Not this time. Not when we know it's our final attempt at insemination. I checked my period tracker app and noted that my period was due the next day, starting my next cycle just in time.

Monday August 11
Got my period - here we go! I knew that once I got the green light from my wife, I needed to take charge of it, only telling her details when she asks, so that she can lay back and trust me and not second guess herself. It's mutually understood that I have to keep her out of it until she's ready. So I did all the paperwork needed to order sperm from a new bank. My clinic and the bank communicated with me and with one another in record time, and by that afternoon, it was confirmed that the "specimen" would arrive at the clinic by Thursday.

Thursday August 14
FedEx notified me that the delivery was successful. OUR SPERM IS WAITING FOR US! I can't explain my attachment to this donor. It's odd and not something I've felt before. But I desperately want it to be him. I feel connected already and want him to share in the creation of our baby. I didn't feel anything like this with the last donor, and even though I tend not to be superstitious, I can't help but hope that's a sign and that maybe the first four didn't work because that person was not meant to be our donor.

Friday August 15
I slipped and told my best friend. I trust her implicitly and had a breakdown while visiting her and her baby today. She was so concerned and comforting that I felt like I had to tell her so that she knew there was hope on the horizon. I couldn't make her endure seeing me collapse and also have her feel pity that I can't try again for four months when I knew we were doing one more try now. I told her that I didn't want to talk about it or for her to ask about it, and so I wouldn't be telling her dates of when anything is happening, but that I just wanted her to know we're giving it one more go.

Wednesday August 20
I have one follicle at 12mm and my lining is not quite ready. It's only Day 10 so no one is very surprised by this, and I'm told to come back Friday. I told my wife that I'm positive that I'll be going in Saturday and Sunday, based on how it's tended to go for me in the past. This is amazing for two reasons. First, I'm not forced into disclosing to my supervisor when I have to suddenly take two days off of work, and I really didn't want to have to tell her we were trying again when our own families didn't know. Second, we had made peace with the fact that Nicole couldn't accompany me to the insemination appointments because it's in eastern Long Island and she just started a new job in Manhattan a month ago. It's too soon for her to have the luxury of coming in a few hours late two days in a row. What are the odds that this time it would happen on a weekend, BOTH days, so that she can be with me and we can really keep it secret?

Friday August 22
My PA was out, so a nurse I've never met was covering and did my sonogram. She was surprised that my 12mm follicle had grown to 18mm in just two days, and that my lining had thickened so nicely so quickly. I was not surprised. I've gotten to know my body's patterns, what cycles look like for me, much more intimately than I ever would have imagined. There was a second follicle at 12mm. (Only two this time, not the four I got last time - but that's kind of a comfort, because if my issue was really just incompatible sperm, I could easily end up with quadruplets once that's changed up!)

I told Nicole that I really thought I was right about it happening on the weekend, that my 18mm would probably be ready to pop Saturday, and after taking the trigger shot Friday, my 12mm would probably be ready Sunday. She said she was betting on Sunday and Monday. I started to doubt myself and fretted about what I have going on at work Monday morning. Then I got the call to take the shot at 8:30 or 9:00PM, go in at 9:30 Saturday for insemination, and then go back for a second Sunday at 8:30. PERFECTION. So I took my syringe with me to Shabbat services and slipped out between the service and the oneg (dessert reception) to hide in the coat check area and give myself the shot before rejoining my community.

I'm hopeful all over again. I've been anxious, depressed, and emotional over this for so long. But now that I'm really scheduled to go out there, and I have a different vision and connection with a new donor, I'm feeling so excited and hopeful. On an intellectual level, I'm nervous about my optimism because I know the crash could be really bad. But my feelings just are what they are. I can't seem to prevent myself from being utterly devastated. It helps already, though, not to be talking about it. Knowing I can give people constant updates feeds an obsession that just isn't good for me at this point in the game. I need to be able to focus elsewhere whenever possible, and that's easier to do when it's not an available topic of conversation.

Saturday August 23
Apparently my PA was out yesterday because she's working this weekend!! She was covering at the Melville clinic. She came into the room so cheerful and hugged me, saying, "I can't believe I get to do not just one, but BOTH of your inseminations this time! Maybe it will be a good luck charm!" She is the one who has been dealing with me since the beginning (except for the few times Dr. K made an appearance for the cyst and "the talk" after three failed cycles), who has seen my gamut of emotions, who has been like a psuedo-therapist while I'm crying during bloodwork after getting a negative home test. And she was so genuinely happy to be out in Melville today and able to do my IUIs herself. And I felt like she was more invested in it because she isn't just the random Melville nurse who happens to get me, but someone who has been with me all along the journey and knows how much is at stake with this attempt.

She was kind and attentive to a greater degree than the nurses who have done my IUIs up to now. And they were sweet and put me greatly at ease, too! But she just took it to another level of sensitivity, maybe because she actually knows me. She explained everything she was doing and why, and immediately afterward, she pulled the little leaf out that I could rest my feet on and pulled the sheet down to preserve my modesty while I put my feet up. Such a small detail, but something no one else has done; I'm usually awkwardly scrambling after they put the stirrups away because my feet are just kind of flailing and I'm trying to scoot back so I can put them up and lay flat.

My big follicle was nice and mature, but she said the second wasn't growing and didn't look viable. That's fine with me since they didn't miss the big one like they did last time! I was surprised that my body responded so much to this very low dose of Clomid last time (4 eggs) and this time, not so much. But I was okay with that because if the sperm was really the only issue and I'll get pregnant easily with this new donor, I don't want to end up with multiples! One good egg is perfect if this is the sperm that gets it done.

And speaking of which...there were 20 MILLION! We are using California Cryobank, which is more expensive but has already given us a more professional and impressive experience, and the PA said she really feels like their samples are better and they screen their donors more selectively so she always recommends them. I told her we had used Manhattan Cryo because our friend had used them and got pregnant the first time, so we had just assumed it must be good! But I had most vials with only about 8 million in them, one with 10, and one with 15. The 15 was such an anomaly - and here we got 20 the first time! It could also be an anomaly, and maybe tomorrow there will only be 9. But right now I'm pretty damn happy.

Sunday August 24
24 MILLION!!!! That is all.

Sunday September 7
It's hard for me to take time to blog on work nights, and my sister, brother-in-law, and baby niece have been visiting over the weekend, so I haven't been great about updating live. But let me recap the torturous two-week wait.

The first week I felt hopeful. How could I not with these circumstances? But I was anxious about why I wasn't feeling anything. Yes, most of what I usually feel is due to the progesterone supplements, but it seemed wrong and I became more nervous the more time that passed. By Tuesday of the second week, I had a ball of dread in my stomach that this just hadn't worked. I cried once and then tried to let it go and plan ahead. I also kept hoping that I was wrong.

Then that Thursday, two days before my period was due and I would be taking the official test, I felt the telltale cramping in my lower back and I just broke. I had a huge cry and I texted Nicole from work to tell her that we should prepare for the worst, and we started talking about what to do next. I told her I'm just so not ready for IVF, that it scares me and is a last resort, but I'm also afraid of continuing to flush money if I just can't get pregnant this way. I also told her that I no longer wanted to move on so quickly to our known donor option. While that will be so much more cost-effective and could solve the problem by using fresh sperm, I feel so deeply and strongly that our child is meant to be connected to this donor. I never felt that with the previous donor. So she said immediately, then let's give him another chance.

Friday my cramping eased a bit, and I dared to hope. Had it just been implantation? Maybe? But I quickly squashed that, scolding myself for getting my hopes up even for a minute.

Friday night, on our way home from temple, Nicole asked me if I was wearing a new bra because my breasts looked a little bigger. I said no, and that I'd actually noticed that in the shower that morning. She said, "Do you think that means anything?" I said, "I mean I guess it could, but it's happened once before. It's probably just a side effect of the progesterone." She said, "You have an extra test at home still, right? Take one tonight just to see." I was excited that she had agreed to taking a home test before going in the next day for bloodwork, but a part of me was also nervous to have my last tiny flame of hope doused. I kind of wanted to have one more night to hold onto that before devastation set in.

I took the test downstairs while Nicole went upstairs to get ready for bed. I left it on the sink while I tidied up the kitchen for my sister's visit the next day. A few minutes later, with a rock in my stomach, I went into the bathroom, bracing myself and telling myself to keep it together, that it shouldn't be a surprise.

And there were the two lines. The second line was just as strong as the test line except for the very end of it that trailed off. My heart started racing and I ran up the stairs yelling, "Nicole! Nicole!" I burst into the bedroom and said, "I'm pregnant! It worked! It's positive!" She just grinned from ear-to-ear and said, "Are you serious? Let me see!" We hugged and squealed and then I immediately called my parents, still shaking and crying.

And this is when I realized the REAL benefit of having kept the cycle secret - being able to completely surprise the people we love and get a raw reaction from them, rather than having them be aware and waiting to hear. What a gift!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Why I Chose the Reform Movement

Orthodoxy builds "a fence around the Torah," which means making rules extra strict, stricter than actually mandated by the Torah, to make sure you cannot come even close to breaking a commandment. Contrary to (non-Jewish) popular belief, Orthodoxy is not just based in the Torah, since a ton of questions are raised and go unanswered if you were to just read the text. It's based on how a bunch of rabbis and sages decided was the best way to enforce and live out the Torah. They debated endlessly and came up with intricate rules to give people very specific answers on how to live out some of the quite vague laws set forth in the Torah. And this is amended all the time - for instance, not turning lights on and off on Shabbat was clearly not a relevant rule three hundred years ago. So when electricity was invented, they again had to put their heads together and figure out how to interpret ancient texts to apply to this. (I do wonder, when you are use a loophole like asking a non-Jew to turn the lights on for you, is the point being missed?)

I'm not dismissing the strict Orthodox guidelines because they come from rabbinical consensus rather than the Torah. I love Talmud study even more than Torah study; I get so energized by watching the debates come alive through the text, and the brilliance in the sages' thinking astounds me. But people look at things differently, and I don't think that taking everything so literally and worrying about the exact right way to do things is necessarily the best way to interpret and live Jewish tradition.

For example, in regards to the following verse from Deuteronomy 6: 5-9 which we read at every Shabbat service and which is inscribed on the scrolls within our mezuzahs:

You shall love Adonai your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might. Take to heart these instructions, which I charge you this day. Impress them upon your children. Recite them when you stay at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up. Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them serve as a symbol on your forehead; inscribe them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Orthodox Jews take every piece of this literally and have come to a consensus on how to live it out. They say the Shema prayer when they wake up and when they go to bed. Orthodox men and some women wear tefillin during their morning prayers, which are small black leather boxes that actually contain verses of Torah and are wrapped around their upper arm and hand ("bind them as a sign on your hand") as well as on their forehead ("and let them serve as a symbol on your forehead"). Mezuzahs fulfill the last part of this about inscribing on the doorposts of your house.

Much of the Torah is like poetry to me, and the symbolism and messages behind the stories I find much more powerful and relevant than the literal details. Likewise, I find much more meaning in a symbolic interpretation of the V'ahavta above. The line about binding God's instructions as a sign on your hand to me means letting it show in your actions. Talking about our hands, like the expression "having blood on my hands," classically symbolizes what we are responsible for doing and not doing. How can we live and act in a way that pleases God and makes our lives valuable? How can we hold ourselves accountable for where we fall short and work to better ourselves? Meditating on that to me is infinitely more powerful than literally binding God's instructions to my hand. 

As for the line about being a symbol on our forehead, again, I think it's much more powerful to consider this symbolically in how we keep God's instructions on our mind. Do we think about them? Do we consider how this should play out in our lives? Do we stop to think about our beliefs before we make choices to ensure they are in line? Have God's words reached our hearts, or do we read them rotely and then go back to thinking about our next distraction? So much to meditate on, and I find that assists in my spiritual growth muh more than having actual boxes containing the instructions on my forehead.

But I do have mezuzahs. For me they are really such a concrete reminder of my Jewishness and of God's presence. I confess that I hardly notice them inside my house. They so quickly became part of the decor, and I don't tend to catch such small details in my periphery as I'm going from room to room. But in the few seconds it takes me to lock or unlock the door to the house, forcing me to pause, I always note the one outside and usually give it a little caress on my way in or out. It just reminds me of who I am and what is important to me in the midst of such a routine activity and before I start or end my day. I treasure those small reminders, so that is something that I have incorporated into my Judaism.

And that is the crux of liberal Judaism - studying where these traditions come from, wrestling with what that means for us individually, and finding a way to observe that is true to who we are and what we believe. Because if I start strapping boxes to my arm every morning out of obligation, I can guarantee you it would have no meaning to me and that the beautiful words of the V'ahavta would be completely lost in the details of an activity that, to me, is so far from what God intended us to take from that passage.

It annoys me when people think being Reform, Reconstructionist, or even Conservative is the "easy" way to be a Jew, or when they dismiss it as "picking and choosing." It irritates me that some people think that one would align with these movements as a shortcut because, meh, Orthodoxy is just too difficult. Being a liberal Jew is not a shortcut or a cheat. It certainly can be if one wants it to be, simply because you will not be judged for what you individually choose to do or not do in your observance. So if someone just doesn't want to be bothered with certain things even though they feel those things are important, they can do so relatively invisibly within Reform. We are all on our own journeys and have made our own choices. There is undeniably a lot of freedom in that, and there is not within Orthodoxy where everyone is expected to be living in exactly the same way (though clearly that strict level of observance feels comforting and rewarding to those practicing it). But for a liberal Jew who is conscientious and actively engaged in their own spirituality and Jewish identity, liberal Judaism offers many dilemmas and hard choices. You have to educate yourself on a rule or custom, wrestle with whether or how it is meaningful to you, and then make the choice to observe or not observe, and how to observe, based on that. That's not as easy as it sounds, because you may understand the meaning in something that is still very, very difficult for you to follow, especially when you are not surrounded by a community who is all following it. 

For example, if my own personal research and spiritual struggle around kashrut (the kosher laws) had led me to feel it was spiritually significant to me and would connect me more to God and/or to my community, it would be extremely difficult to move in that direction when my own rabbi enjoys shrimp and my wife's favorite food is bacon - both things that would be terribly difficult for me to give up. I would have to be very self-disciplined and would have to seek out the few other liberal Jews who keep kosher in order to feel supported. My own personal research and struggle did lead me to feel the need to observe Shabbat by not working, and this is definitely not always easy. I've had to turn down opportunities to make extra money or to be flexible with the possibility of going back to work only part-time after having a baby. I've had to suck up a crappy scheduling change to make it fair that I don't work occasional Saturdays when other supervisors do. For someone who is Orthodox, this would be easier because everyone within their community observes Shabbat this way and it's unthinkable that any of them would go to work. It just wouldn't even be an option. But within my own temple community, there are many people who work Saturdays without blinking. They have chosen other ways to make Shabbat separate from the week and don't feel the need for work to necessarily be the determinant. That makes it more of a challenge for me to practice this on my own.

It's not "the easy way" to have to put so much thought into every single way of being to ensure you are doing what's meaningful for you and that you have the willpower and self-discipline to keep it up when it's not consistent in your community. In a way, it could be seen as easy to just know without a doubt that you have to follow certain rules and to be ensconced in a community in which everyone is doing that and would gasp and pull you back on track if you were to slip. I enjoy the struggle and the self-accountability. I appreciate immensely that every choice I'm making is what makes me feel more solid in my Jewish identity and feel closer to God. I feel good about not doing anything just because I feel obligated to even if it is antiquated or illogical or seems to lose the point through all the obsession over details.

That is why I made MY choice. And I'm glad that all Jews have the ability to affiliate with a movement that best reflects their needs.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Empty Summer

I know I've been very absent the past month. Since finding out we weren't pregnant a fourth time, and knowing we'd now have to pay off the half of this cycle that we'd charged PLUS save up for the next, I've just been too emotional. It will probably be November-ish before we can afford another round. We're still in the paying-off stage, and then have about $4,000 to save up. So far $12,000 has been flushed down the toilet. Just gone in a blink, with nothing to show for it.

Since we had to switch sperm anyway (the only factor we can try changing at this stage since everything else has checked out fine), we decided to change banks while we're at it, because why not? What if that bank just doesn't do as good of a job at collecting or storing? It can't hurt. Except that it does financially, because our bank was the cheapest around. We're going from $470 a vial to over $700. Since we need two vials per try, that difference adds up, considering we were already struggling to save up what we needed before. We have also taken a break from being a host family for international students; the break has been wonderful for our marriage and our sanity while my wife starts a new job and we deal with the emotional fallout of this last failed attempt, but there is also much less money coming in now. That was a second job of sorts that is now on hold. We also just got bills for over $1300 in bloodwork from my initial work-up that are being denied by my insurance company. I already tried to appeal, and the denial stands.

I have a whole story to share around the donor I chose, but I don't want to expend the emotional energy in writing about it when we are most likely only giving it one shot. If I have several eggs and there is a good amount of sperm and it still doesn't work after changing donors, we are going to have to go a different route. I'm smitten for this guy, would love for him to be connected to our child and excited for our child to meet him one day. I have a really good feeling about him, more so than the last guy, whose biggest selling point was that we knew someone who had used him as a donor. We didn't have that bias this time so we had to choose just based on everything else, and I'm really excited about him. It even makes me feel like maybe the last guy didn't work for a reason - maybe this is the guy our child is meant to be connected to. But I don't even want to write about all that, how we chose him and what I love about him, because we are only giving it one shot with him. That's all we can afford. We can't keep throwing money into something that just isn't working, so he's got one shot. And that scares me. I'm already so attached.

I'm a disaster and could really use therapy, but the $40 a week copay adds up to more than I can afford right now if I ever want to save this money up. I've had two different people swear by acupuncture (improves blood flow to help healthy maturation of eggs and healthy building of the lining), saying they had trouble conceiving and ended up getting pregnant the first cycle after undergoing treatment. But I went for a consultation Saturday (she's an M.D. a five-minute walk from my house who specializes in fertility issues) and learned that the discount package is $600 for ten sessions. And for it to be effective, you need weekly sessions for three months leading up to insemination, and then three times the week of the procedure (before and after insemination, and then around implantation time). Everything I can do to help myself costs more money, and I feel frustrated, sad, and defeated.

My agency just changed its maternity leave policy, effective 9/15/15, so that you can only carry over two weeks of vacation into the next fiscal year. Currently, at any given point, you can hold your amount of vacation plus two weeks that you carried over before you start losing unused vacation. But as of 9/15/15 and then every July 1, you will lose all but two weeks going into that next year. I would have to get pregnant in August in order to be able to use all my paid vacation time that I've been so carefully hoarding so that I can afford taking my full leave (five months max). We can't afford to even try in August. So now I have to worry about how I will afford to take five months off if only three months of it are paid instead of the four-and-a-half that I'd originally calculated, or else have a total meltdown at facing going back to work before five months. And we used to be able to take a six-month leave prior to this year, so that's already been a blow.

I'm an emotional wreck these days, and am grateful for my friend and coworker (who just had an embryo transfer this week for her first round of IVF) because we go to each other's offices to break down all the time. It makes ALL the difference to have someone who gets it - and not from the other side just saying "it will happen, don't worry," but in it right now, knowing the anxiety and stress of it, feeling it daily and not just as a memory with the knowledge of hindsight and having answers.

I'm trying to distract myself. Much of the time I'm successful. Much of the time I'm overwhelmed in the chaos of my work, or absorbed in "Breaking Bad" and other such entertainment escapes, or spending time with family and friends and just feeling total joy at life and beautiful weather and people I love and the simple pleasures of watching my rosebush bloom and having a purring cat on my chest in the mornings. Because the very nature of who I am is just not able to be squelched, even by this, and  I am at my core a grateful and joyful human being. But I have moments in between those moments, brief as they may be, where I completely and utterly break.

This is how I've been distracting myself since the last negative pregnancy test:

Going with friends on a high ropes course, something I couldn't do if pregnant

Representing my synagogue at Long Island Pride - the first year and something we've been asked to keep organizing on an annual basis, so I feel like I was able to be part of something meaningful

Blissing out in the gorgeous Vermont countryside for my birthday, thanks to my cousins' generous offer for us to stay at their vacation home so we could afford to get away

Spending a few days with my sister, brother-in-law, and sweet baby niece

Gardening - enjoying both the process and the fruits of my labors

And enjoying the sweetness and affection of my two amazing little cats

I'm breaking, but I'm not broken. I'm resilient. I am grateful for what I have, and I'm finding and thoroughly enjoying opportunities to express and share love and to appreciate life. I'm also nurturing myself enough to allow myself the emotional breakdowns when they come, without feeling ashamed or rushing myself out of them. I let them pass over me like ocean waves, indulge in them as much as I need to for that moment, and then I continue on. 

Because what else can I do?