Saturday, April 25, 2015

What is natural?

What is natural?  The gorgeous caramel highlights in your sleek, flat-ironed hair? Or the perfectly manicured tips on your fingernails? Perhaps the slight green tint that your contacts give you, or the sparkly, straight glow from your whitened, formerly braced teeth? Maybe it’s the fluid swing in your golf game, or the day-in, day-out ease with which you manage your classroom of 22 five year olds. 

Truth be told, there is rarely a person who can claim to be a total natural at anything.  Most of us have  worked hard at our appearance, careers, hobbies, etc. 

So why is it that we constantly shame each other with the notion that ‘natural’ puts us above someone else?   Instead of being able to enjoy your new hair color, or the airbrushed glow your new foundation gives you, we often face critical glares, or whispers.

So it’s no wonder that women our society feels shame when faced with problems with something that is supposed to be as ‘natural’ as having kids.  Is it natural to want to mother or father a child? To want so badly to raise a family that you will go to lengths you’d never imagined?  That’s where I found myself a year ago.

Let’s back up a bit.  All through my teenage years, I struggled with irregular, painful cycles, mood swings, migraines, and stomach issues.  My doctors all brushed it off as being young, lactose intolerance, or needing more body fat.  Into my 20’s, the issues compounded and I was eventually treated for endometriosis.  Medically induced menopause at 25 years old.  The injections put a toll on my body, but they helped the symptoms.  Conversations with my doctors in regards to my future usually ended with,  ‘You will probably have trouble getting pregnant-if you can at all.’  My heart ached.  Ever since I could remember, all I wanted to do was to be a mommy.  Six-year-old Amanda didn’t dream about her perfect wedding, she made lists of prospective names for her future children, and used her baby sisters as dolls to play house.

When Mark and I got engaged, one of the first conversations we had was about having kids.  Although I didn’t want to think about it, I made sure he knew that there was a possibility that my body couldn’t do it.  About six months after our wedding, we decided to try for a baby.  Within weeks, we were pregnant.  On this day four years ago, we heard our little Sprinkle’s heartbeat for the first time.  After an almost textbook pregnancy (aside from the little stinker turning breech), we met our little Kinley Ryan on her due date. 11/11/11.  7 lbs, 7 oz of perfect.  Our hearts swelled with love and pride.  The Miracle of Life.

Over the next couple of years, life got busy, but we knew we would ultimately want more children.  Mark wanted to wait to be sure I wasn’t too pregnant during our house build, and I impatiently obliged.  We were hoping for a late spring/early summer baby.

However, it took over 20 months for my cycles to resume after Kinley was born-and when they did, they came with a vengeance.  It seemed like they wouldn’t stop.  I was having what seemed like two cycles a month. I couldn’t ‘time’ anything. We decided to try for #2 at the end of the summer, and one day in mid-November, I found myself squinting in the sunlight at a very faint, pink second line.  Excited, but cautious, I decided to wait a few more days to test again.   On the morning I was going to check, I woke with awful pains shooting through my abdomen and back.  I woke Mark and told him something was wrong and that I was going to be very sick, or he was going to have to take me to the hospital.  And then it happened. It was an early loss, and since it took two weeks for my doctor to see me, they decided that with my description, I was probably right and that blood work wasn’t necessary.   My doctor offered Clomid to help regulate my cycles.   (Boy am I glad I didn’t take it blindly!)

Something didn’t sit right with me, so instead, I called a specialist.  We had only been trying 2 months, but I just knew something wasn’t right.  I didn’t want to wait it out, and the worst they could do was to tell me to keep trying and come back later, right?  Fortunately for me, the specialist started right away with a series of tests and blood work. By January, I found out I had polycystic ovaries (high risk for multiples), blocked tubes, endometriosis, a tilted uterus, a short cervix, luteal phase defect  (low progesterone-which can cause miscarriage), an elevated antibody level which is an indicator for high risk for miscarriage, and that I was, indeed, having 13-15 day long cycles-not long enough to sustain a pregnancy.  I went to the doctor 3-4 times a week for months, each morning getting blood work taken to check hormone levels, and then waiting by the phone for results.  At one draw they actually took 19 viles!  My hormones were out of control-I even started randomly lactating one day-almost a year after I stopped nursing.

I had surgery just after Valentine’s Day in 2014.  They unblocked my tubes and removed some scar tissue.  I was started on a medicine to regulate my cycles and one day in early April I got the call.  “Well I have some news. I hope it’s good…”  That is a strange combination of words coming from someone who knows you WANT to be pregnant.  I thought, ‘Why do you ‘hope’?’  “You’re pregnant…but it doesn’t look good.  I am not sure that this is a viable pregnancy.  We will have to check your levels again in two days.” 

Instead of my heart soaring, it sank.  Mark knew I was waiting for results that day, but I couldn’t bring myself to call him.  When I got home, I pulled out the little plate I made that said ‘We’re pregnant!’ I put a few cookies on it and handed it to him.  He got the message. He hugged me with tears of joy in his eyes…and I bawled.  I told him that it didn’t look good.  Over the next couple of weeks, my symptoms slowly faded.  I wanted so badly to feel sick, for my chest to burn, to be too exhausted to keep my eyes open past 6 pm.   I had my Teacher of the Year observation that week.  At a time when I wanted to crawl in bed and be left alone, I had a team of 8 people flood my room with all eyes glued to me.  I wanted to tell them to leave.  I’m sure it showed.   Two days after Easter, the nurse called me with results.  “I’m sorry.  You are going to lose this pregnancy.”  And I cried.  Hard.  A lot.  They told me it would probably happen by the next day, but it ended up being a few hours later. 4/22. Earth Day.

It was an early loss again, but that still didn’t make it easy.  Loss is loss. What’s easy about losing something you’ve wanted so badly, and worked so hard for? About knowing a life was growing inside of you-even if for a short time.  What’s natural about any of that?

It turns out that my progesterone was dropping too low for the dose that they were supporting me with.  We were fortunate to get pregnant that next month.   I spent three months giving myself progesterone and having weekly ultrasounds.  At 12 weeks along, we found out we had a little boy joining our family.  

We were fortunate. Our struggle wasn’t a long one.  I was able to get help far before most people who end up needing it.  I didn’t have a hard time getting pregnant; I had a hard time staying pregnant. I was pregnant three times within 7 months.  Since last April, my charts all read: 4 pregnancies, 1 live birth. Gut wrenching. Until now.  Until Krew. 

I’m proud of my struggles. I found comfort in telling people about my issues as I was going through them.  Through talking, I found out how many people have gone through this, or were actually fighting the battle right along with us.  Noone should be made to feel embarrassed.  It’s so much more common than I ever knew.

I am not a religious person, but I do believe that someone sent us our Krew-and along with him all the most wonderful parts of our angel babies. 

I don’t know why Kinley was so easy for us.  I don’t know if it would be again-or if we will even risk trying.  I don’t know if Krew was conceived ‘naturally’. I never will.  I don't know why this happened to me...or why it happens to anyone.  But, I do know this: fertility issues are humbling.  They can make you feel inadequate and doubt your womanhood-something we don’t need other people doing for us. Underhanded comments and digs from others, sometimes oblivious, can compound these feelings.

And so I ask of you, use caution when talking to people about their fertility.  Choose your words carefully.  ‘When are you going to have a baby/another?’,  ‘Don’t you want kids?’, ‘Were they natural?’,  or ‘I get pregnant if my husband walks by me during the right time of the month,’ are not comforting words for someone fighting the fertility battle.  And how do you know who is?

I am not less of a woman because of all of this, but I am stronger. I am a mother-and the love I feel for my kids is about as natural as it gets.  Shouldn't that be most important?

*Be kind. For everyone you meet may be fighting a harder battle.*