Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Two Heartbeats

Right there on the ultrasound. One (er...two) of the most beautiful pixel blips you'd ever hope to see. Shortly after noon on November 19th, right there in front of my disbelieving eyes. I'd been so cautious with my expectations, it was a little hard to wrap my head around it. It worked... it really worked. There were two little figures and there were their heartbeats.

We only got two eggs from the retrieval. They were both good, they both fertilized, they both made it to three days, and they both survived to eight weeks. As I said over and over again as I stared at the ultrasound monitor... Oh My God!

Let me back up a bit. So we'd been waiting anxiously for this day since...well, since the positive pregnancy test on October 27th. (Although believe me, that was only the formal pregnancy test... Red went a little test crazy for a while...remember the pregnancy test scene from Knocked Up?) I leave work shortly before our appointment at 11 am and make my way up Spring Garden Road to AART, nervous, heart pounding, willing things to be OK while preparing myself for them not to be. I meet Red in the parking garage as she's still looking for a spot; I get in the car and it's this bizarre moment where we're about to find out whether we're going to be parents or not but instead we need to focus on the mundane task of finding a parking space.

We head up to AART and I shakily take my seat in the waiting room. An older couple is there and a younger couple that I kind of recognize, but I'm not sure. AART is really behind schedule today, there are retrievals and implantations going on left and right. The young couple get called in to their ultrasound first and as the receptionist calls the woman's name I remember: this is the couple that had their retrieval immediately after Red's. In the recovery room that day, as we were trying to deal with the news that they only got two eggs, I had to listen to this couple, still filled with the pre-retrieval optimism, chat with the nurses. Sure that was us less than an hour ago before, but it stung to have to listen to them as I was trying to comfort my devastated, semi-conscious wife. And now they were ahead of us for their eight week ultrasound. The little pessimistic douchebag voice in my brain fires up: "Yep, that's how it's gonna be... they probably got loads of eggs, and now they're going to have loads of kids, and we'll have to sit here and listen, and then go find out that we've got nothing." My heart sinks lower and as I fight back the nervous movements and the tears, I say a little prayer and squeeze Red's hand. (I may also have done a little sudoku.)

So the couple is called, and minutes later the younger guy comes out, and asks whether the older couple wants to come in and see the twins. Yep... this is how it's going to happen... you're so right, little douchebag voice.

We eventually get into the room a little after 12 pm, and have to wait some more in the exam room, me pacing back and forth and trying (and failing) to make jokes about the equipment and the situation. It's just before 12:30 pm when Dr. Bouzayen comes in and slowly, carefully talks us through where we are in the process and what she's going to do. She brings a clerk guy with her who's being trained. "Great," says the douchebag voice, "we're about to receive terrible news and we've got to share it with THIS GUY? Of course we do..." Now the doctor has the probe in and comments on how Red's bladder is already filling back up. "Oh, haha, Red has to pee a lot... what about the embryos?" The doctor says that her lining is nice and thick. "OK, that's good... but not really what we want to know...embryos?" The doctor points out the cyst on one of Red's ovaries. Red and I share a telepathic, "Oh no...that's it...it didn't work and now there's a cyst." But the doctor points out that it's actually a good thing as the cyst is providing good hormones, and will probably go away on its own. She continues and suggests that it might be time to take a look in the uterus. "Gee, do you think? Arrggghh" The douchebag is winning.

As Dr. Bouzayen starts her sweep I think I catch a momentary flash of something that I recognize, something that triggers a shape memory... wait a second, that's what foetuses look like... and then she finds the right spot and there it is. It's pretty much an alien shaped blob, but it's the right kind of alien shaped blob. And there's a little bit of pixel noise on the image that I'm not used to seeing on the ultrasounds. Not pixel noise... that is the friggin' heartbeat. Oh My God! The douchebag voice is silent. The doctor reminds us that we put two embryos in; maybe we should check for another one. A few movements of her wrist and she finds it... other side of the uterus, another alien blob, another bit of pixel noise. Oh My God! The douchebag voice has gone home for the day.. hostile work environment. I'm stunned, thrilled, gobsmacked, grateful, excited...

And the doctor is disappointed. Tsk, she says as she makes notes, that's our second set of twins today. Our goal is really to have one healthy baby, she says, but she's grinning as she says it, and I'm.... well, I'm dealing with the wonderful fact that I'm much closer to becoming a father. The doctor says that as soon as she saw that both foetuses had their own amniotic sacs, and that both had strong heartbeats, the chance of miscarriage dropped from 25 % to 5 %. In a few minutes, we have jumped many rungs up the statistical ladder. The doctor is giving us lots of information about checkups and progress and due dates and I'm listening but it's like my brain has a soft filter on it... everything's warm and fuzzy and looking fantastic. The doctor and the clerk leave and Red and I are left to contemplate our new, very likely role as the parents of twins.


So that was was almost two weeks ago, at the eight week ultrasound. This Thursday, Red will be 10 weeks pregnant, a couple of weeks shy of the end of her first trimester. That's supposed to be the safe time to tell people that you're pregnant, so it's an important milestone, although all of you guys out there are obviously already in the know.

Red's already getting big. She went maternity clothes shopping for the first time on Sunday and was thrilled to be able to wear pants the past two days. She is still nauseous (but not vomitous, if that's even a word), especially at night, she's wicked tired, frequently ravenous, and wants her breasts gone. They are the worst thing for her so far, I believe. They are very itchy and hot and swollen. She's taken to putting cold cloths on them in the evening. Last night she discovered that paper towel works even better, "Cause it sticks!"

I'm feeling more at ease about referring to the foetuses as babies. I may have even started talking to them a little bit. But the fact that we're having twins is just a bonus. I wanted at least one... to get two is just double the blessing. And I know that sounds a bit cliche, but it's the truth. Red was pretty convinced before the ultrasound that if there was something in her oven, there were two of that something in there. (In fact, while I was blown away after the doctor found the first one, Red was waiting for the second.) I was so worried about there being nothing that two, three, four, whatever... I'm just thrilled.

To be fair, though, I was in a bit of a daze after the ultrasound. For a few minutes, Red was unsure if I should even drive. We'd both been at work before the appointment and were supposed to go back, but that seemed wrong. So we decided to drive over to Dartmouth and visit family. My Mom called and we gave her the news...very excited. We called my sister and gave her the news...I had to assure her three times that I was, in fact, quite serious... very excited. My sister passed me off to my Dad... who promptly reminded me that I wouldn't be able to go far from the house anytime soon. And suggested that the news would be good for my Mom since she had had a fender bender that morning. Dad has his own way of processing things...

So there we are. We have an appointment with our family doctor tomorrow, an appointment with Dr. Busayn next week, and then an ultrasound at the IWK the week after. Please keep your prayers and good energy and good thoughts coming our way... as some people have told us, you never stop worrying about losing your baby until they're born, and then you have a whole new set of things to worry about. Hopefully we'll be celebrating Christmas safe in the knowledge that we're through the first trimester, and contemplating that next Christmas we'll probably be taking care of two six month olds. Well, we bought this house with the idea that we'd fill it with kids... it looks like we're off to a good start. Wish us luck. I'll try to post next week with any news.

I leave you with some pics from the day of the Ultrasound.

"Aieeee! Twins!"

"Well done with the baby growing, baby!"

"One pretty mama..."

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Six Weeks and Change

This past Thursday Red was officially six weeks pregnant. As I said in my previous post, at eight weeks we go for the first ultrasound. (Well, the first since the one they used to implant the embryos.) If that goes well, Red and I think we'll be able to relax a little bit. We decided a while ago to wait for eight weeks to start using the B word (and the accompanying mindset), and I'm trying to stick to that plan, but Red is already there. She frequently talks to the embryos in her belly, and I have to confess, I may have said a few encouraging words in that general direction.

A more significant milestone, at least for us, was passed last Tuesday. On that day in our last cycle, Red had the miscarriage. Getting past that point was a big psychological comfort for Red, even though we knew based on her levels that things were much better this time around. And symptomatically they are better as well, in that Red feels worse.

Red's very tired, her breasts are sore (and bigger), she's occasionally nauseous, and her food tastes have changed. She used to be very much a salad girl, and bread was causing her stomach trouble. Now the thought of a salad makes her ill, and she's craving bread. So not much fun for Red these days, but as she says when she catches herself complaining, the worse she feels, the better it is for our embryos. There are some benefits for me though. Aside from the obvious, one of my favourite pregnancy symptoms is the fatigue. I love naps, and since Red is all about the naps these days, I just tag along and nap supportively. If my wife needs me to nap with her (even if she doesn't sat that at all), then damnit, the household tasks I'm avoiding are just going to have to wait.

After the ultrasound we're planning to buy our own copy of "What to Expect..."; my sister has kindly been lending us hers, and we felt weird about buying our own copy until we were more sure. In a similar vein, at eight weeks, I'll feel like it's OK to start making changes to the house... finally putting in a pet door in the door to the basement so we can move the cat litter downstairs, giving a good cleaning to one of the bedrooms, starting to gather some of the baby stuff that's been offered to us by people who no longer need it. Everything's probably fine now, and we take comfort in the symptoms that we've been told signify a healthy pregnancy, but we're really holding up that ultrasound as the milestone we need to get through to go into the next stage.

On the other side of that milestone, in that next stage, that's when the reality will set in. As Mark said this week, you (mostly) stop worrying about staying pregnant, and start worrying about having a child, and all that that brings with it.

Red got her flu shot this week, and was at a clinic with a lot of screaming kids (kids under 5 and pregnant women are in the same risk group). Later that night she recounted the environment and wondered if we knew what we were doing. But we both do... at least, we both know that we want kids, the good and the bad of them. As for knowing what to do when raising them... well that's a whole other worry, for another time.

Mark and I had a long talk this week, and since Amynah's due in five weeks, and he's a thinker, he's thought a lot about becoming a father. One of the things he told me (and I hope I get it right) was that as he's been gathering stuff for his kid-to-be, he's felt a little more secure about being a Dad, but still not ready. But the thing that really brought it close for him was getting books from our mutual friend Carol. Mark has a strong memory of his Dad reading to him as a child, and said that getting these books, books he could read to his kid, really made him feel that he could be a father to his kid in the way his Dad had been to him.

Many of my close friends now have kids, and up until the last while, all of those conversations have been at least partially coloured by the difficulties Red and I have had in getting pregnant. And I really enjoy hanging out with our friends and their children, but there's always been a tinge of sadness present, selfish thoughts wondering why we couldn't have the same. I brought a sense of hope for our little project into my conversation with Mark this week, and I caught a glimpse of what it will be like when I'm able, without the slightest bit of regret or self-pity, to celebrate the tiny ones that people I love have brought into this world. I can't wait.

Alright then... that's enough of my little pity party for one week. I'm going to try to post once a week from here on in. Keep those good thoughts, and prayers and other fine mojo coming people... something's working. And despite the non-scientific nature of "mojo", I'm still generally a scientific-minded person, so I think we need to make sure we control as many variables as we can in this little experiment. Keep it up people... we can do this!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

28 Times Better

Red went for her blood test on Tuesday. Things are better than last time. How much better? Her HCG levels at this point in our last cycle were 39. This time they're 1105. AART was happy with the levels this time and booked Red in for an 8 week ultrasound on Nov. 19. And on top of that, they gave us a due date. An actual, honest to God due date. July 1st. (That's right, the 7th month... not that that's anything but a coincidence.)

The last few weeks have been particularly brutal at work, so when Red called me Tuesday afternoon, I went out to the hallway and sat down on the floor and listened to the tears of joy pouring out of my cellphone. Despite the fact that Red had taken two home tests prior to the official blood, and both had come up positive immediately (not what happened last time), she/we were still nervous, not sure if we were deluding ourselves. Apparently we weren't.

In addition, Red has worse symptoms than before. Very sore breasts, frequent trips to the bathroom (er, more frequent), fatigue, some unsettledness in the stomach and food issues. Plus she says that she can feel her uterus expanding. All good signs according to the book. (Though it's still a bit weird to tell someone how badly your wife is feeling and have them be happy for you.)

Of course we're still nervous. We're approaching the day of the miscarriage in the last cycle; every day without problems is one day closer to confidence. If things are good at the ultrasound we'll be a little more sure. Once we hit 3 months (mid-December) we'll be even better.

We've been so paranoid about using the B word, we still call it the embryo. Or maybe it's still calling them the embryos. Red's levels are high enough - maybe both embryos survived. How crazy would that be?

We're a little nervous with all the swine flu talk going on, especially where being pregnant puts Red in one of the high risk groups. However, being in that group means queue jumping abilities for vaccinations. In accordance with the song Mark posted on his blog, I think she should find a way to maximize smugness when she does her queue jumping.

Anyway, as Buddy Holly would say, we're crying, waiting and hoping. Keep sending the good mojo our way - it seems to be working.

One last thing: 28 times the levels, same day as my birthday, in July, and 28 is a multiple of seven! Eh, eh... (Travis is right... you can do this with any number, but it's still comforting in a weird way. I think it's the imposing of an order on a situation that you can't really affect.)

Love to you all...

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Ah Computers...

In bygone days, if one wrote that one looked like a bearded puffer fish, one's readers only needed rely on their own imagination. Nowadays, within mere hours, we are lovingly provided with the following...

Kudos to my dear friend Travis.

As to the actual subject of this blog... Red is still resting, we're still waiting and hoping. We're very grateful for all of your supportive comments. They give us warm fuzzies, and it's been clinically proven that warm fuzzies are beneficial to the "embryo snuggling" process. (My apologies for going all medical lingo-y on you.)

Monday, October 12, 2009

Hoping the Second Time's the Charm

Sorry dear readers...I have not been giving you the attention you deserve. It has been a very busy 12 days since my last post. And as we've learned is normal with IVF, it's been an emotional ride, especially in the last week.

Red felt pretty good during the ovary stimulation, and the doctor gave us the go ahead to inject the HCG a few days earlier than in our last cycle. Went that night to get the HCG from our magical bag of pharmacy provided material... no HCG. The pharmacy had been so good the last cycle at giving us everything we needed well ahead of time. Pharmacy is closed. Doctor on call won't call us back. Finally the doctor calls us back and Red can instead inject another dose of the stimulating drug. In our heads we knew that another day didn't really matter... we knew from talking to the nurses that it was a 50/50 call for the HCG that day anyway. But in our guts we were so worried. We were completely reassured when we went in the next day, and the pharmacist apologized, but it was more stress in an already stressful situation.

And then we went in for the retrieval. Red's Estradiol levels weren't as high as last time, and there weren't quite as many follicles. (I actually don't know why we didn't go as long with the stimulation as we did last cycle.) But we expected, based on the levels and follicle numbers, to get at least six eggs.

We got two.

It was so disheartening and disappointing. We were extremely sad after the retrieval. We tried to lift our spirits with the fact that we got even two eggs (some people going through the cycle don't get any), but we kept comparing it to the last cycle where we got seven good eggs. In that cycle we lost three to panspermia (Red's nickname for it is "slutty eggs"), implanted two on Day 3 and lost the other two in attempting to get them to Day 5 for freezing. We knew we were doing ICSI (direct injection of sperm into egg) to avoid the panspermia but odds were not good that both eggs would survive. (We found out later that it's about 70% survival, but how do you apply that to two eggs.) It's always better to have more in case the unforseen happens. And we didn't know the quality of the eggs so we didn't have any idea what their chances were. It was a pretty low day.

So the next morning we're asleep and the phone rings. We instantly know who's calling and we brace for the worst. I'm a little shaky as I hand the phone to Red, sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.

The ICSI went well, both fertilized, and our little cells our chugging along. A little bit of relief for that day, but still the nagging, depressing worry. Next day, same thing: awakened by phone call, shaky handoff... and they're still going strong. One is scored at 19 out of 20, the other a perfect 20 out of 20. Later that day we get the call to come in the next morning for the implantation. One more night, still worried as we get to the clinic, and Sonya the embryologist comes out and tells us... still two, still scoring 19 and a 20. She shows them to us on the microscope hooked up to the monitor.

Whew...a little bit of relief... our two eggs held on until day three. The doctor said the implantation went very well, very smooth. We got a similar ultrasound picture as last time, with the little white dot showing the air bubbles placed around the cells within the medium.

Red is not feeling as sore as she was at this point last time, but other than that, we're at the same place we were last cycle. We've got two cells (with even the same scores) in the oven. We have to wait a little more than two weeks to go for a pregnancy test. So sometime before the end of the month, we'll get our first test results back. That's test #1. Hopefully Red's levels (I think it's the pregnancy-generated HCG) will be nice and high this time and then it's more waiting for the 7 week ultrasound sometime in mid-November. That's the first time we'll be able to feel any kind of confidence. So it's at least another month of worrying. And then there's the 1st trimester hurdle to reach...

But we take some hope from the fact that with only two eggs harvested, we got pretty much the best possible result, and an identical situation out of implantation as we did the last time. Now we just have to wait. Red has taken all this week off, and she's just going to relax. The doctors say that she could do her normal activities (work, school, etc.) without any affect on our little embryos, but it makes her feel better at a gut level to give them a nice relaxed home for the first week of their time in her uterus. I have to admit, it makes me feel a little better too.

So that's the story so far. Please keep sending us your love, good thoughts, prayers, meditations, and crossed fingers and toes. And just to confirm, Red still thinks I look hot in scrubs, but she doesn't want to see me in them again for at least 34 weeks. I'm very hopeful that that will happen.

P.S. Here's us making eyes at our camera trying to relieve a little bit of our nervousness on implantation day. Red's bladder is full to bursting for the implantation, but she looks great. I, on the other hand, look like some sort of bearded puffer fish.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Some Interesting Reading

I forgot to put this in my last post. A pair of articles in the Herald concerning fertility treatments. The first is about the experience, the second is about the idea of having provincial health care cover fertility treatment costs.

I recognize the system is pretty strapped for cash, but there is an argument to be made that infertility is a medical issue. And specifically for IVF, there's also an argument that without the cost burden, people might be more willing to implant less eggs, resulting in less multiple births, which tend, in the long run, to cost the health care system more.

On the other hand, I can understand the argument that any public health system IVF dollars could be better spent elsewhere.

I don't know the answer... just wanted to raise the question with you all. I'd probably feel a lot stronger about it if we didn't have mysterious benefactors.

Two posts in one night... aren't you all lucky!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

3 Months, 3 Weeks and 6 Days...

...since my last posting. Most of you probably know, or can guess, why...

I'm lazy.

That's the main reason, but there were some other factors as well:
1. We were pregnant and then we weren't. I didn't want to talk about it for a long while, and certainly didn't want to blog about it.
2. The NDP won the election June 9th... it's tough to find things to blog about when you're living in a Socialist utopia.
3. On June 12th I was taken down playing soccer and broke my collarbone.
4. It was summer y'all, I had things to do.

But let's talk about why the blog is back.

After taking the mandatory three months off, Red and I are now well into our second IVF cycle.

Red started the Suprefact September 4th (the same day we toiled as wait staff for our mysterious IVF benefactors), had her Down Regulation Check on September 24th (bravely all by herself while her deadbeat husband was flying back from Ottawa meetings) and started the injections the same night. The first post-injection blood test and ultrasound was Monday morning, and things are going well. The technical term, as used by Brenda at AART, is that Red has "billions and billions of follicles". (Brenda's kind of like a cute Carl Sagan.)

If things progress as they did last time, we should be going in for retrieval the end of next week. If we have a number of fertilized eggs to implant a few days later, we'll have things to be extra thankful for this year.

But that's next week. Before we get there, we have more tests. And Red has many more vajayjay ultrasounds, blood tests and nightly injections to get through before we get to the main event. I've said it before, but she's the brave one of this partnership... I'm always impressed by how she handles all of this. Even more so this time, knowing what she has coming. If my ovaries were so full they were smooshed into each other and somebody started poking a giant needle-shaped vacuum into them and digging around like they were looking for loose change... I wouldn't be in very good humour.

And I know a little bit how I would respond... I'm sure I was a bit of a wimp this summer with the broken collarbone. Only a few days after having a miscarriage, my wife had to deal with her gimpy husband asking her to wash his armpits. Nice timing on my part, eh? She's been very strong... sad for much of the summer, but strong all the same.

I'll end this post with gratitude.

I'm grateful for our mysterious benefactors. We couldn't be doing this without you. I'm hoping some day we can begin to thank you enough for your unwavering commitment to our little project.

I'm grateful for all the people who spoke up and shared their miscarriage experiences with us. It was so important to know that we weren't alone. I'm especially grateful for my two hiking partners... after sharing self-induced pain with them in the great outdoors, it was very comforting for Red and I to be able to share our painful fertility experiences with them and their partners. Whether on long rambling drives down the Eastern Shore, or over tea and Oatmeal Raisin cookies, I am grateful for those conversations.

I'm grateful for the friendships that have developed and deepened in the wake of the miscarriage. To have such joy essentially develop out of such sadness is truly a remarkable thing. I believe it to be the Spirit at work in the world; for others it is simply one of the wonders of being human. Whatever it is, I am truly grateful.

And I'm grateful for Red. Strong... let me tell you. The day of the miscarriage was Election Day. After it happened I rushed home to be with her. After a while, when she ran out of tears, she insisted I go to the victory party, because she knew how much it meant to me. Strong, that one; she's going to make a heck of a Mom.

That's it for now... I'll keep you posted on our progress. Please keep us in your thoughts/prayers; we're going to need all the good vibes we can get.