Monday, March 28, 2011

Running For My Life In The March For Babies

We all have had experiences in our lives that have left us downtrodden. Unfortunately, part of being human is feeling pain, whether it be physical or emotional. We all have difficult roads in our life journey that we need to survive and hopefully, ultimately rise above.

Infertility and recurrent pregnancy loss have been a huge and rather difficult part of my journey these past four years. Infertility has left me feeling powerless, weak and helplessly unable to control my physical or emotional self. I have had surgeries and gone through multiple IVFs that have put me on bed rest and have made me physically weak and in pain. The many different hormones I have been on and the overall stress of infertility has put me on an emotional roller coaster that has left me feeling overwhelmed and sad. I have been starting to feel that I am no longer in control of my own well being.

I have also done a lot of waiting these past four years that has left me feeling inadequate. I have been waiting in doctor’s offices, waiting on the phone to fight with my insurance company, waiting for my medications to come, waiting for my procedures to happen and waiting to see if all of this waiting was worth it. The problem with waiting is that you don’t go anywhere. When you wait, life is put on hold and you can’t move forward. There are many situations where you know your waiting will pay off, and the object of desire is right around the corner, but with many things in life, including bringing life into the world, nothing is guaranteed, and your waiting may not pay off.

So what do you do when you can’t wait any longer? What do you do when you come to terms with the fact that what you desire most is not around the corner? How do you heal from such a deep sense of loss? How do you move on without losing all hope? How do you find yourself again, or perhaps redefine yourself?

These are the questions I have been wrestling with since the failure of our final IVF last fall. My husband and I started our journey with infertility in February of 2006. We were so lucky to conceive our daughter through IUI two years later. She was born prematurely in January of 2008, but she is, thank goodness, a happy and healthy little girl today. Six months after her birth we started trying to conceive again. We have spent four years--almost half our marriage trying to conceive--undergoing many procedures, suffering many pregnancy losses, climbing this uphill battle, waiting for another miracle. But it seems, in the world of fertility procedures, there is nothing positive waiting for us anymore. This reality has left me feeling sad, powerless and empty.

I have been wracking my brain trying to figure out something to make me feel strong again, something to make me feel powerful. I need to feel in control again and physically healthy. I recently saw online an advertisement for the March of Dimes, “March For Babies 10k,” an event that will “raise money for research and programs that help moms have full-term pregnancies and babies begin healthy lives…bring comfort and information to families with a baby in newborn intensive care.” My husband, my daughter and I were all preemies and all spent time in the NICU. This organization is very meaningful to me.

I have decided to participate in the 10k, despite the fact that I have zero running experience and have never done a race. But I have been training using a, “Couch to 10k” program, and I am proud to say I ran 3 miles non-stop on the tread mill the other day. I never thought I would be able to accomplish something like this. With all my body has been through the past four years, I didn’t even think I could walk two miles, never mind run three. Training has left me feeling physically strong and powerful. The running seems like a literal, as well as a symbolic, “moving forward.” It is refreshing to have a big goal that I can accomplish through hard work. I feel in control again.

When we struggle through the tough roads of our journey, there is always a time of healing that must follow. I am hoping that crossing the finish line, hand and hand with my husband, who is also running the 10k, will help us move past the challenges and the losses we have faced these past four years. I am hoping to feel like I can “kick butt” again, for who knows what challenges may come next!

Go Team Annie Grace!

For more information on how to support March Of Dimes, visit their website,

Monday, March 14, 2011

You Are Not Fat, You Are Pregnant...

Dear Pregnant Women,

Lately I have been hearing some of you outright trash your bodies during this miraculous state of being and it has infuriated me on many different levels. At five, four or even as soon as three months pregnant, some of you describe yourselves as large, fat, obese or humongous, and one of you even referred to yourself as the size of a “Mac truck.” I am begging you to stop this trash talk, if not for your own sake, for the sake of your infertile friends.

Having had the blessing of being pregnant with my daughter, I have lived through the extraordinary changes a woman’s body goes through during this incredible time. I know and can appreciate how hard pregnancy is. I clearly remember the nausea, the aches and pains, the stretch marks and the multitude of other bizarre and seemingly unreasonable conditions a woman will experience throughout her pregnancy. But having struggled to get pregnant with my daughter, and then not being able to carry my subsequent pregnancies past 8 weeks, I also know what it is like to want to be pregnant more than anything else in the world. I see pregnancy as a miracle, a gift and something to be cherished.

When some of you trash your bodies, it saddens me to the core. I realize these comments come out of great insecurity as you struggle to come to terms with your new body. But when I hear a four-month pregnant woman who is starting to show, say, “I am humongous and gross,” it makes me so angry. I feel she is not appreciating this incredible gift of having a baby growing inside of her. When I look at the same four month pregnant woman, I have feelings of wonder and amazement. Truth be told, there might also be some feelings of envy and sadness as I start to think about my own unfulfilled desire to be pregnant. So when I ask you, “How are you feeling?” and you say, “Disgusted. I am huge already,” I must admit that I am disgusted too, but not by your size but by your negative attitude.

When I was pregnant with my daughter, I was grateful for every pound I gained and every pant size that I had to retire. To me that meant my baby was thriving and getting bigger. Everything on my body got bigger, my butt, my legs, my arms. I don’t even want to talk about my bra size. Let’s just say that I didn’t know until I was pregnant that cup sizes reached well above the DD’s into the middle of the alphabet. I was just grateful my baby was healthy and I was able to be a part of this incredible phenomenon that I had hoped and prayed for, for many years.

I have to be honest, I did not carry my baby to full term. I can only imagine how “large” and “humongous” women feel towards the end of the last trimester, and God help those women who carry well past their due date! I have friends who have carried and naturally delivered 9 and 10 pound babies, and I am inspired by them. I also can’t imagine carrying multiples. But those feelings of being “large” should come out of understandable discomfort and a desire to not walk around feeling like you have 20 pound weights attached to each ankle, not out of a desire to want to look like a super model.

I guess what I am saying is this-- Pregnant ladies, be gentle with yourself and love your pregnant body. Please appreciate and cherish this gift, especially out of sensitivity to all of us ladies dealing with infertility or those women who may never have the opportunity to be pregnant. We as women, pregnant or not, beat ourselves up and often compare ourselves to Hollywood standards. Looking like a glowing and pregnant Natalie Portman did on Oscar night is not reality unless you have a team of people getting you ready each morning. And yes some starlet pregnancies may come and go and their weight may not reach the non pregnancy weight of us real women. But that is not reality either.

So please, cherish and love your body! Enjoy your curves for at least this short period of time! And for goodness sake, remember that the changes your body is going through are on account of a beautiful baby growing inside of you, and there are many women struggling with infertility who would give anything to have your growing belly!


Tuesday, March 8, 2011

What me, Jillian Michaels, Padma Lakshmi, Tia Mowry have incommon!

Lately we have been hearing more and more celebrities speaking about endometriosis-related infertility. Jillian Michaels from the NBC hit television show, The Biggest Loser, recently talked about her struggle with endometriosis and how her journey with infertility has led her to the adoption process. Tia Mowry, an actress known best for her role on Sister Sister, talked about her struggle with endometriosis and her miracle pregnancy. Padma Lakshmi, host of Bravo’s Top Chef and an endometriosis sufferer, also calls her pregnancy a miracle and started the Endometriosis Foundation of America to help other women who suffer from this disease. So what is endometriosis?

Endometriosis is a disease where the tissue that lines and then sheds from the uterus during a normal menstrual cycle, escapes the uterus and then grows on the outside portion of the uterus, the ovaries, the intestines or other parts of the body. During ones period, this rogue tissue also sheds and can cause severe pain and bleeding. Because the blood had nowhere to go, the tissue can exhibit itself as scarring and nodules. Endometriosis causes infertility. Sometimes the scarring from the endometriosis can damage the fallopian tubes. In other cases, the endometriosis can become so progressed that a woman’s entire reproductive system can be fused together. Some doctors believe that endometriosis can inhibit the fertilization of the egg or implantation of a fertilized egg. Although endometriosis affects millions of women, there is so much about the disease that is unknown.

I was diagnosed with endometriosis by my reproductive endocrinologist at the start of my infertility journey. After ruling out many other major infertility issues though tests and procedures, we were left with the possibility of endometriosis, due to my symptoms of painful periods. The only way to confirm this diagnosis was through a laparoscopy. A laparoscopy did show that I had uterine tissue growing on my ovary, my uterus and parts of my intestines. My doctor was able to use a laser to remove the tissue.

This diagnosis gave me a new understanding of my body. I always had severe stomach issues, especially around my period. After many tests and procedures which showed nothing, my gastroenterologist could only figure that Irritable Bowel Syndrome was causing my stomach irritations. I had been complaining of debilitating pain with my period for years. My gynecologist always told me that was normal! My period would also leave me exhausted and drained. I actually have to plan social events and functions around my period. When I was working I sometimes would have to sometimes leave early or call in sick. All of the stomach issues, the pain and the fatigue could now be explained by endometriosis.

There was a feeling of relief that came with my diagnosis. All those years, I had been basically told by medical professionals to “suck it up” . I had been made to feel like a wimp, like this excruciating pain I was in was “normal.” Then my initial relief turned to anxiety. After researching endometriosis, I learned that there is no cure for the disease and no one is sure how one gets the disease. Even though I had my laparoscopy, that was only a temporary fix. The tissue will grow back and can be dangerous. It seems like the best treatment is laparoscopic surgery, which is really disheartening because it is not an easy fix. There are other hormonal treatments, but there are side effects to these medications. I am currently trying to alleviate my symptoms through exercise and diet.

I am grateful to celebrities who come out and talk about endometriosis. I can only hope that making the public aware of this sometimes debilitating disease will help educate women who may be suffering in silence. I am also grateful for organizations like the Endometriosis Foundation of America. This organization is dedicated to learning more about the disease to help alleviate the pain that millions of women are experiencing on a daily basis. Some people in the medical field believe that endometriosis is genetic. If it is, I can only hope that when my daughter’s generation is of age, there will be a cure.

Infertility and Cancer

There is a lot of communication that happens between couples dealing with infertility. It is inevitable. There are lots of decisions to be made regarding treatment options, hopes, dreams and fears that are expressed. Even if you are not a talker (which my husband is not) you cannot escape certain discussions. Yet, I have found that there is always one thing never talked about at length, if at all, one giant, pink elephant in the room. The long term effects on all of these infertility treatments on the woman, and the fear of developing cancer.

I will never forget when my mom first realized how many drugs I actually took for an IVF cycle. As life has a crazy way of working out sometimes, we were in the middle of moving when I was going through my second IVF cycle. I had tried to pack as much as I could before I started my ovary stimulation drugs because once I was stimulated, I couldn’t do much of anything. My mom came in and saw this extra large box in my foyer and asked if it was all of my kitchen items. I informed her that it wasn’t, that was just one of my boxes of medications for this round of IVF and the smaller box next to it was also filled with medications and needles. My mom looked like she was about to vomit and just muttered worriedly, “Oh, Casey.”

I told her the same things my doctor told me to try and put her mind at ease. Because I was on birth control for many years in my early twenties, giving me a break from the constant ovulation and high estrogen , I was at lesser risk of developing ovarian or uterine cancer. I also told her because I was pregnant with my daughter and breast fed I was also at a lesser risk. My doctor also said that he usually stops people at stimulated cycle #10 to prevent long term risks. I participated in 6 cycles. These facts did not seem to put my mom at ease. She had reminded quietly throughout my infertility journey that these drugs cannot be good for me. Honestly, her fears have been my fears and my husbands fears as well. But the feelings of self sacrifice and doing anything for your children exhibits itself with just the mere longing for children.

The statistics are more harrowing for women who never give birth. They are at a greater risk for ovarian and uterine cancer. My aunt, who never had children of her own, was recently diagnosed with an aggressive type of uterine cancer. Within two weeks of her diagnosis she had a hysterectomy and is now discussing further treatments with her doctor. Luckily, she had been to her gynecologist regularly and caught it fairly early. She had been spotting post menopause which is a major warning sign for cancer. A huge problem is that for cancers like ovarian or uterine, often when the symptons of pain and spotting occur the cancer has progressed.

I am terrified for my aunt. The particular type of cancer she has can show up anywhere in her body later on. I hate that this is a part of her journey. I wish I could take away all of her pain and suffering. I feel for all women who carry the burden of cancer. Some of these women have struggled for years trying to get pregnant, only to find their little ones through adoption later on in their journey. Some women have chosen to use their nurture and motherly instinct to help others in their community, either their family and friends or on a larger scale. Others find their calling through creating loving homes for pets. My aunt has spent her life volunteering, being there for family and friends, providing a loving home for rescue animals and spoiling her nieces and nephew!

I also can’t help but think about myself and my risk for developing cancer. Before I got pregnant with my daughter, I had a whatever it takes attitude with regard to fertility treatments and scoffed at worrying about my health. When going through all of my fertility treatments after my daughter was born, I started worrying about my health more. Despite assurances from my doctor that it shouldn’t affect my long term health, I am was nervous. How could the boxes upon boxes of drugs have no effect? At the beginning of trying to conceive again, I kept worrying about my daughter having a sibling. After my third IVF coupled with my third IUI, I started worrying my daughter having a mother. Because of this worry, and my chronic pain from my endometriosis, I have even recently started thinking about a hysterectomy which is a blog for another time!

My heart goes out to those struggling with cancer and to the families who have lost incredible women to cancer. I also pray for those young women who are now cancer free, but now may have limited options when starting a family due to their battle. None of it is easy. In the meantime, I am trying to help carry my aunt through this part of her journey, as she helped carry me throughout mine.