Thursday, 19 October 2017

Chapter 26 - Getting off the Fence

We finally did it. We made our dreams come true. We have a baby on the way and I'm as happy as I could possibly be, but after seeing that little heartbeat flicker I've had this feeling I haven't been able to shake, that there is something off. I'm told that a woman feels like a mother when she becomes pregnant - the whole having a baby inside you thing really helps to make things real for you, but a man feels like a father when they meet their baby. At first I wrote this feeling off as just that, a delayed daddy reaction that will go away when I meet my baby in April.

It didn't work out that way, the giant pit in my stomach just kept growing. I had fought my way through this whole ordeal and I used every weapon I had. I did tests, and consults, and more tests, and, treatments, and research. I got second and third jobs and managed our budgets. When I had done all I could do medically and financially I wrote blog posts, and participated in Facebook groups, staying positive and trying to help others through their own struggles. By every definition of the word, I had earned this triumph, so why did I feel like this?

I've met some awesome people along my journey that were dealt the same crappy hand, many of them much worse. I met couples that have both male and female factor infertility, others that if only they had the money - could make a go at treatment. Couples that have had their hopes lifted, only to then experience devastating loss I can't even begin to imagine, many of them time and time again. That is where the pit in my stomach comes from - a giant bowling ball of guilt weighing down my joy, and forcing me to wonder why it's me that deserves this child, this life, and not all the other people that may be more qualified, more able, and more deserving of their own child.

I tell myself it's okay, that those people understand, but I've been on the other side and I know they don't. It's a shameful feeling to be jealous of your best friends for getting pregnant and having kids, to be angry with them for being able to create something that you can't. I know that feeling and it's not easy. I'm still just as infertile as I ever was, but I'm no longer part of the community that lives it and my very presence in that community doesn't give the hope you would expect it to, it just gives more heartache.

Taken on our honeymoon in Scotland - the start of our journey.
So here I've been, sitting on the fence figuring out where I fit in and avoiding the inevitable loss that comes with leaving the community that's given me so much. I know this isn't where my journey ends, in fact it's really only the beginning, but it is a parting of ways. The kind of mutual "farewell, until we meet again" that you give a fond
travelling companion.

So to those that have been there for us, that have struggled alongside us and continue to do so, that have given us their warmth and shared our worries, our fears, and rode the rollercoaster with us - to all of you, I wish you all the luck and baby dust in the world, until we meet again.

Monday, 9 October 2017

Chapter 25 - Look at that Embryo!

The day I found out about my infertility was probably one of the worst days of my life. As I explained in a previous post, I sat in the office, listening to the very matter-of-fact doctor tell me about my 6 sperm, five of which were useless, and how there was almost no way I would be able to father a child naturally; the one goal I had in my life at the time. K told a family member later on that she always thought the first time she would see me cry was when our child was born - not in the car outside the doctor's office. Neither of us gave up hope though, and we supported each other through every bit of it.

We did a second embryo transfer over the summer - something we kept secret to allow ourselves a little bit of privacy the second time around. Privacy was important to us for two reasons; it prevented us from having to explain to anybody if it didn’t work, or so that we could surprise people and tell them on our own terms if it did work.  We didn’t want to lie to people, but people generally wanted to know what was happening and weren’t usually shy about asking – so we had to tell them something. Usually it ended up being some kind of vague answer meant to throw them off the scent; “We’re just playing the waiting game” or “We’re saving up for the next transfer”. These answers were usually enough to cut the questions off.
"Look at that Embryo!"

The process for the second transfer was basically the same as the first time, K had to show up with a full bladder and squirm in the waiting room while waiting to see the doctor. Then when the nurse came to get us, we got all dressed up in our hospital gowns and booties before getting escorted to the procedure room. When they showed us the second embryo on the giant screen in that room, I turned to K and said “ Look at that embryo! That’s a good looking embryo. I’ve got a good feeling about that embryo.” Everyone in the room was amused, or at least I was.

The procedure took place the week before my younger brother's bachelor party - a five day camping party so full of debauchery that “epic” is the only word fitting enough to describe it. That said, five days out of cell service while your wife is going through endless terror that something bad will happen with the embryo inside her doesn't make for a supportive situation. So every morning I would wake up and drive to service, to call her and reassure her that everything was going to be okay, a task much easier said than done.

After an excessively long party and a five hour drive home, the first thing I wanted to do was shower - so after unloading all my gear, that's exactly what I did. I was getting dressed when K came into the bedroom and said she wanted to ask me a question - if she could go buy a pregnancy test. I immediately said no because we had agreed prior to the transfer that we weren't going to do any home tests, we were going to wait until the blood test to have confirmation - that way we could prevent any false positives or negatives and in turn stay off the roller coaster ride of emotion. She responded by holding up a test she already took and said "But I want to see if this one is right". I stopped dead in my tracks and stared at the test strip she was holding up for what seemed like 10 full minutes before I looked are her and said "It says yes?" She nodded. "Are you sure?" She nodded again as tears welled up in her big brown eyes. I gave her a soft hug and wiped a tear from my eye, everything we’d been through that year, everything we’d done, all the pain we’d dealt with, the money we’d spent, the extra work we’d put in – even just to have that moment with her, made it all worth it.

Baby at 12 weeks
Baby at 8 weeks
So 8 more home 
pregnancy tests, three blood tests,
two ultrasounds, and several weeks of nausea later, we are happy to announce that K is 12 weeks pregnant, with an expected delivery date of April 20, 2018!

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Chapter 24 - To All The Hopeful Dads

An Open Letter to All the Hopeful Dads Out There:

I know what you're going through. I've been there. Maybe what you want is your own child to dress up like you, to play games with, or teach things to. Maybe you want nothing more than to give your partner what she wants more than anything in the world - likely both. I know how you feel, because I am there.

Don't blame yourself. You can't control it any more than you can control the weather. It's not your fault so just don't. You're allowed to be angry. You're allowed to be sad. You're going to be both, but don't ever blame yourself. It's easy to get caught up in the masculinity of things, but don't let pride hold you back, because there are solutions. More than a handful of times I've heard women talk about how their significant others refuse to get tested, or even talk about their issues. Don't let this prevent you from feeling the joy of fatherhood. Instead of feeling shame that you are not a man, be the man you're meant to be and deal with the problem.

Stay positive and find the humor in the process. Other people may not get your jokes, but they don't have to because the jokes aren't for them. I was playing on a volleyball team over the summer and a member from the other team dove for the ball and hit it under the net - smack dab into my junk. Consequently, I hit the sand like a sack of potatoes. When I finally recovered someone apologized and said, "I hope I didn't mess anything up", to which I responded - "that's okay, they don't work anyway" - nobody laughed, but the joke was for me.

Remember that you're not alone. Your partner is going through this too - and likely they need you more than you need them. Don't isolate yourself, and don't isolate them. This will pass, and it will make you both stronger, but only if you let it. Your resolve is being tested. Don't fail the test. Don't pass the test. Nail that test to the damn wall - and then put a baseball bat through it because you're strong enough when you're together.

Don't let ignorance get to you. I read an article about the Alberta government considering covering the cost of fertility treatments, much like other provinces already do. I was dumb enough to read the commentary. I'm not sure why I expected people to be supportive and understanding, but I was wrong. Instead I saw comments about how people who have fertility issues should be forced to adopt instead. Don't let people like this get to you, they don't know what they're talking about, and their self-righteous ignorance has no bearing on your life. What they don't know is that adoption is actually a far more expensive and far more time consuming process. Not to mention the discrimination of denying someone with the inability to have their own children naturally - the option to try.

Try not to hate the people that tell you, "Don't worry, it will happen." They're just trying to help in the only way they know how. Remember that they would fix it for you if they could, but they're more helpless in this than you are. As much as you want to punch them in the face, they really do mean well.

And finally, don't lose hope. It's a long, arduous, and painful journey - but the best things in life are worth waiting for.


Lefty the Hopeful Dad

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Chapter 23 - One Year Down

As I write this I'm sitting at my desk in my home office, in a cloud of a my one-year-old dog's foul gas, reflecting on the past year. I guess I could take the path down the road of irony and say that it's fitting that my dog crop-dusted me as I was trying to think of a way to describe the last year of my life. I could go on to explain how difficult it has been on me, my attitude, and my marriage. I could take the easy road and wonder why it's me that has to go through this instead of someone else. I could think about all those things and wallow in my own self pity, but I'm not going to. Instead I'm going to tell you what I love about my life and why this past year has been one of the most rewarding I have ever experienced.

I learned how to love my wife.
You can take this statement any way you like and make all kinds of assumptions about it, but what it comes down to is that marriage takes a lot of work. Committing to one another was a declaration that we would do whatever it took to make our marriage work. Unfortunately, in order to understand what "whatever it takes" means, you really have to be tested through some kind of adversity - and adversity is never pleasant. We were struck with our own this year having been touched by a cancer scare and infertility, but we faced it head on, hand in hand. We supported each other and we took the time to understand what each of us needed from the other. I can't say it wasn't difficult, I can't say I would wish it on others, but I can say it has made us both truly understand and accept each other.

I learned to let go of the little things.
When mountain-sized problems are looming over you, getting wet crossing the stream seems a little less daunting. I'm not perfect by any stretch of the word, I still get angry over little things on occasion, but things like my puppy chewing the legs off my old-fashioned wooden office chair, my shirt getting bleached in the washing machine, or somebody stealing my parking spot just aren't worth getting worked up over. Chairs and shirts can be replaced and there's always another parking spot (unless it's Christmas, in which case, stay the hell away from the mall and order your gifts online because it's 2017), but I can't replace the time I would have spent raging about those things, or snapping at my wife for something not worth snapping about.

I learned the value of a dollar.
Fertility treatment is an expensive undertaking, even if you have good benefits, and saving up the money for it really put us on the right track. Obviously it set us back a pretty penny, but instead of going back to our old spending habits, we decided to take our saving to the next step. We took the money that we had been spending on fertility treatments and instead started dumping it on our debts. We paid off our credit card, one of our student loans, and two-thirds of one of our vehicle loans. We showed ourselves that all we needed was a priority adjustment in order to accomplish our goals - and now as a byproduct of our goal of having children - we have been able to take several steps in the right direction toward our goal of being debt free.

I've become a student of patience.
Patience has never been my strong suit, if you ask anybody that knows me they'll tell you I want everything, and I wanted it the day before yesterday. Kay isn't much better, in fact, she has a tattoo on her wrist that reads "Patience is a Virtue" which serves two purposes: it acts as her own gentle reminder when she becomes impatient, and it acts as rage fuel when she's being impatient and I tell her to look at her wrist. So when I say that I've become a student of patience, I truly mean that it is a work in progress, but what helps me to stay patient over such a long arduous process is reminding myself that the best things in life are worth waiting for; over, and over, and over, and over again.

I started writing again.
I used to write all the time. I would write rants as an outlet for anger, poetry as an outlet for sadness, letters as a way to communicate things I didn't want to say. In a sense I grew up writing, but I never really took it seriously. In fact, when I started this blog I wasn't taking it seriously, it was just another way for me to deal with my own life. This blog has allowed me to reconnect with my love of writing and helped me to express my passion for it by giving me something meaningful to write about, something that others who are struggling can relate to.

Kay and I will be celebrating our first wedding anniversary this month and when I look back on the last year of our lives, it only gives me hope for the rest of our life together. We are all shaped by our experiences, but who we are and how we choose to look at our lives is what makes us the people we are. I choose to look at my life as an incredible one, full of love and learning - one that I wouldn't trade for the world.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Chapter 22 - When in Doubt, Cut it Out

I decided that since I have enough sperm in the bank to do seven rounds of IVF (and since I'll never be able to afford that many rounds anyway) that it would be prudent to follow up with my surgeon again about having ol' Lefty (my left testicle) removed, or as the formal surgery is called, an orchiectomy. I wanted to be absolutely sure I was making the right decision so I did my research before my appointment. What I learned was initially reassuring, but the further I went down the rabbit hole of self diagnosis, the more worried I became. I learned that ol' Lefty was so much bigger than ol' Righty, not because ol' Lefty was big, but because ol' Righty was small.

My actual birthday card from my work team.
It is noted in a previous chapter that I had a correction surgery for an undescended testicle on the left side when I was a child and that this was the suspected cause of my infertility. In my search for certainty I found out that my right side also had an issue which was something called a "retractile testicle". This basically means my right nut moves freely and painlessly between the scrotum and the abdomen. I always thought this little mutation was cool because I was able to freak out any girl I was with by making my right nut disappear like a freak-show act from a travelling circus. Unfortunately, this also meant that my right side could be the culprit for my issues, and this concerned me. When a testicle is surgically removed, as a general rule, the remaining testicle makes up for the loss by switching into overdrive and bumping up its sperm and testosterone production. I wasn't worried about it not making up for my sperm production - I had enough sperm frozen for a lifetime of fertility treatments - but living with low testosterone was something I was positive I didn't want.

I read all about testosterone replacement therapy. The creams that make you grow hair at the application site, or the daily injections for the rest of your life, or the risk of growing boobs, or even an increased risk of getting cancer. Teenage me probably wouldn't have minded having boobs for a day or two, but I don't think future me would have the same appreciation for them. What it came down to for me though was that I would be having surgery as a preventative measure of getting cancer, only to possibly have to go on hormone therapy which could actually cause cancer. It seemed to me like I was being chased, but I was running in the wrong direction - and none of these decisions were good options. I decided to reserve my decision until I followed up with my doctors.

When I saw my family doctor, she was awesome, and encouraging. She explained that the way she understood it, only my sperm production should be affected, and since I was very masculine looking with facial hair and a muscular build, I shouldn't be worried about a small drop in testosterone production if that was the case. In her words - "when in doubt, cut it out". She did, however, encourage me to ask my surgeon to make sure. I saw my surgeon shortly after, who said that as far as she knew, there is no test to see which testicle is the problem and that removal is a risk, especially given my issues with both sides, even for my testosterone production. She was very empathetic to my situation and offered me an alternative; observation. She explained that I would have alternating MRIs and Ultrasounds every six months for two years, following which I would have an MRI every year after that. This way, if something did grow back, they could catch it before it became a problem.

After a little bit of discussion, I opted for door number two and I left the surgeon's office with renewed comfort from the decision I had made. Although, I must admit, I was slightly disappointed that I wouldn't be able to make all the "balls of steel" jokes I had planned for my post-prosthetic surgery.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Chapter 21 - I Don't Know You

I don't know you, but I know I love you,

And I can't really explain why.

It doesn't make any sense, I've never even met you,

But something inside me says I have to try.

So I keep on pushing, and saving, and working hard,

To make this dream come true.

And every setback, every loss, every failed attempt,

Crushes me and pushes me further from you.

They said I'd probably never meet you,

They said you might never exist.

But there was still a chance and I couldn't stand by,

So we got put on the waiting list.

I thought the waiting was the hardest part,

Worse than the drugs, the needles, and all the tests.

But what really hurt was the heartache I felt,

Every time I thought of you, deep in my chest.

All I want is to be a proud father,

And to make you proud of me.

To help you, and guide you, and watch you grow up,

Into the man or woman you're meant to be.

But it seems so far away these days,

Like it's over and done, and washed away.

At this point I'd do anything,

But it's out of my hands, it's not up to me, all I can do is pray.

I know I love you, but I don't know you,

But I'll get my chance someday.

To teach you to run and jump, and to make you laugh,

It can't be that far away.

So I'll keep on pushing, and saving, and working hard,

So that I can be there for you.

After all, you're my heart and my soul,

The last part that's missing, the final piece to make me whole.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Chapter 20 - Calling All Storks

The day of transfer was exciting. I got up before my alarm and basically jumped out of bed. I was exhausted, but mostly because I was so excited to do the transfer the following day that I couldn't get to sleep. When I finally did drift off, I had dreams that we were late for the transfer and we lost our embryo, which then woke me up terrified and scrambling for my phone to check the time - only another 5 hours till I have to wake up, then 4, then 3, and on and on, dream after dream until I finally got up for real.

I stumbled into the shower to wash up, but really was only allowed to rinse off. We were told that perfume or cologne can damage the embryo, so to be safe, I passed on the shampoo, the body wash, the deodorant and the cologne - I was determined not to screw this up. Kay also got ready, which included downing a jug of water (they wanted her bladder to be full to allow for a smooth transfer of the embryo into her uterus). I was concerned by this because I know what Kay is like when she has to pee (ragey), and I know how much liquid is required to make her pee (a teaspoon), neither of which were working in my favor. Nevertheless, she drank the obligatory water and we were on our way. We made a stop for caffeine, but wanting to be as cautious as possible, ended up calling the clinic to ask if caffeine was okay on the day of transfer - it wasn't, and Kay watched me drink my coffee with resentment while her tea got cold.

Kay in the "ready room"
In no time, we were sitting in the front room of the clinic waiting for the nurse to come and get us, and staring at all the separate pieces of d├ęcor that resembled embryos. I'm not kidding, the area rug had white polka dots, the light fixture was a giant white egg, and the wall behind the reception desk was covered in what looked like splitting cells - it's hard for me to say whether this was comforting or a slap in the face, but it was definitely a fitting theme. The nurse finally came and got us and the receptionist wished us luck. We were brought into the same room that the retrieval took place and Kay was given clothes to change into again, but this time, so was I. I dutifully pulled the booties over my feet, put the hairnet over my head, and put the gown on, this time doing a much better job than when I had my "balltrasound". Then I proceeded to do a photo shoot of myself and Kay in our sterile clothes, the whole time thinking of the future conversation I'd have with my kids explaining my own version of "the birds and the bees" (seriously though, if someone could explain the birds and the bees thing to me that would be great, because I never understood the relationship of birds and bees to the act of procreation).

Our Embryo
Following our photo shoot the embryologist came in to tell us what we had waited all week to hear - we had lost our outlier overnight and our final embryo count was down from six embryos to five. We were disappointed but too excited to be bummed out for too long and we made the decision to be happy that we ended up with five. The embryologist reinforced this attitude by telling us that with the number we started with falling from sixteen to seven on the first day, she only expected two or three to make it to the last day, so we actually did quite well! She told us she had selected the highest grade embryo for transfer that day and she would be happy to let us take a picture of it when we moved into the procedure room. The procedure room was the standard room with the table and stirrups, but with a big T.V. screen on the wall already showing a huge picture of our tiny little embryo. I snapped a couple photos of it while the excitement and stress, which reminded me of watching the Oilers playoff games, built up in my chest and Kay's bladder got ready to burst. The doctor had a quick look, but then sent Kay to the bathroom to "let a little bit out" since her bladder was actually too full - there she goes again; over-achieving.

The procedure after that was super fast, and much like the natural act, took literally 10 minutes; they inserted the catheter, squeezed through the embryo, checked the line to make sure it went in, and then printed us out this nifty little picture of Kay's uterus. The doctor, the nurse, and the embryologist all wished us luck before sending us on our way - Kay was worried for a few minutes that it might fall out if she got up, but the doctor assured us that wasn't a thing, although from the way she was walking for the first few minutes I have my doubts that she was entirely convinced - but it also could have been that her bladder was extremely full and the bathroom was occupied by another patient when we came out of the procedure room.

The little white spot just right of center is where the embryo is.
Once we had completed the transfer, our next task was to somehow make it nine days till Kay's blood test to check if she was pregnant without losing our minds. The first two days were a breeze, we were full of excitement, anticipation, and positivity. The next two days brought on some intense cramping for Kay but she endured, not really able to take much of anything for the pain. She was worried and made two or three phone calls to the clinic but was assured it was all normal. She, of course, became a Google warrior at this time and made sure she read the opinions and symptoms listed by people on virtually every fertility forum on the internet, in one minute reassuring herself that things were working, and the next minute worrying that it wasn't going to work.

I banned Kay from taking any pregnancy tests because I knew that taking one so early was essentially meaningless - especially since the earlier it was, the more likely it was that it would show up with a false positive because of all the HCG (pregnancy hormone) still in her body from IVF. On day 6, however, Kay convinced me to let her take one, and it showed up negative - which basically brought on a meltdown while I tried to console her and reassure her that there was still a possibility she was pregnant since it was still too early. Eventually she was okay, but was pretty much convinced that there was no way she was pregnant. Kay does what she wants (she gets that from me), and against my advice, she took another on day 7, which that morning showed as negative. Later in the day, however, a very faint line showed up on both the day 6 & 7 tests (Kay keeps them for comparison) - and she got excited again - but then day 8's test was entirely and completely negative - leading Kay to the conclusion that the transfer didn't stick.

These ups and downs are probably the toughest part of the entire process - except for hearing the word "negative" in relation to a pregnancy test, which is what happened on day 9 when Kay went in for her official blood test. When you're trying to get pregnant naturally, anything could have happened, but knowing that you've done every possible thing that can be done, makes it so much more difficult. We know there was a good quality egg, we know it fertilized, and we know it was where it needed to be, it just didn't happen. It wasn't just anti-climactic, it was heartbreaking, but all we can really do is pick ourselves up, muster up a little more hope, and try again.