If you’ve seen my blog posts over the last 12 months, you’ll notice I basically fell off the blogging-earth for many many months. And I have not talked much about what has taken up so much of my time, attention and energy – but I felt it was only fair to help bridge the gap, and open up and share a very personal part of myself to you, my friends.
One year ago, my husband and I decided we wanted to try to have kids. (This beautiful little girl is our niece, not ours ☺️.) We’re not spring chickens – we were a bit late in deciding to take the parenthood plunge. But that was our decision. However, we soon ran into a number of roadblocks.
I was diagnosed with fibroid tumors in and around my uterus late in 2016. And my family history was less than positive and rather dire for the women in my family who suffered from fibroids. My doctor recommended surgery to remove the fibroids, and unfortunately it had to be an open surgery due to the location of the tumors – they couldn’t be removed noninvasively or laparoscopically.
Up until this point in my 39-year life, I had never been hospitalized, under anesthesia, connected to an IV – nothing. And the idea of surgery scared me, but the idea of being unsuccessful at having children scared me even more.
So my husband and I began down the journey. Before the scheduled surgery, we started our first round of fertility treatments.
Oh yes – forgot to mention that three years ago, my husband battled cancer, successfully (!), but regrettably the chemotherapy took the option of natural conception away from us. And so we ventured on the long, emotional, incredibly expensive rollercoaster of in-vitro fertility (IVF) treatment.
Initially, we hoped that we would be fortunate enough to only need one round of fertility treatment with multiple viable embryos and potentially two future beautiful children. We wanted to finish our one-and-done first round of fertility treatment prior to my surgery. And so ensued the two weeks of hormone treatments, the multiple daily injections into my belly, the nearly daily 6am morning blood-work appointments at the center, the constant ultrasounds, all leading up to the crescendo of the egg extraction. Our endocrinologist/fertility doctor was so excited to have extracted 13 eggs in our first round.
But the emotions and disappointments arose quickly. Because of my age, we had to test each fertilized egg for abnormalities, since our fertility policy would not allow the transfer of abnormal embryos for attempted pregnancy. Of the 13 eggs extracted, four fertilized and began to mature, and of the four, only one tested normal and viable.
We froze the one and decided we would try one more round after my surgery.
The surgery was a few weeks after our first egg extraction. It was successful and I was hospitalized for only one night. But it was definitely an experience I will never forget. Trying to calm my anxiety before being prepped; being questioned for nearly an hour about every possible family medical issue; kissing my husband goodbye as I was wheeled away, and trying to remain brave; trying to keep my eyes open and focused on the bright lights above to see how long I could fight the anesthesia (less than 4 seconds by my count, from what I recall); and finally, waking up after what felt like a deep nap, trying to wake up, groggily asking for Jonathan, and feeling the strange but somewhat numb body pains in my tired state. Mostly I was grateful, silently praying and giving thanks that I came to without much affair.
Being an open surgery meant a c-section bikini line scar, which I certainly didn’t mind. What I minded was the restricted movement I had to endure for four weeks, of which the first two I endured nearly immobile at home. I remained close to two parts of our house: a bathroom and the kitchen, and that relegated me for the first week to one floor of our home.
The most challenging part of the recovery was sleeping comfortably and attempting to prevent the searing, burning and pulling pain from the slightest wrong movement around my incision, which was nearly impossible. Not to mention the first night home with the most incredible gas pains I had ever felt in my life. Apparently, open abdominal surgery like the myomectomy I had requires the doctors to pump gas into my abdomen so that they can move my bits and parts around easier. Let me assure you that the painfully uncomfortable process of getting those gas bubbles out of your body were an unexpected side effect that nobody quite prepared me for. Thank goodness for TUMS, slow walking and Tylenol!
But alas, after two weeks recovering, I had figured out how to move slightly and gingerly, I transferred off the couch and back into my bed upstairs, which positions in bed would be the most comfortable, and how to get up and down the stairs, around the house and through the day in little pain. And finally after four weeks, I returned to normal life – back to work, back to commuting on the train into NYC, back to (slowly but surely) climbing stairs and trekking through the streets of the city, and feeling closer to normal again.
Our second round of fertility began about six weeks after my surgery. We were back to the two weeks of daily belly injections, daily 6am blood work appointments and ultrasounds, and then another extraction. And again, the emotions ran high and low. Again, my doctor was able to extract 13 eggs exactly. Six eggs fertilized this round, but four continued to develop, and of the four that developed, none were viable. All four tested abnormal.
We were devastated. Frustrated. Angry (at whom? at everyone? at no one?). Helpless. Foolish. Heartbroken.
How presumptuous of us to think we could get away with just one round of the insanity.
But knowing every day that passed meant a diminishing chance for success, we steeled ourselves up and tried for a third round. Like deja vu, we were back on the two-week hamster wheel. At this point, my body was at least starting to get used to the poking, the prodding, the pricking. And again, I could not escape the number 13. For a third time, 13 eggs were extracted. And this time, we decided to escape from the craziness and destress ourselves a bit with a weekend getaway to ‘the Cape.’
My husband and I packed up the car and the dog, and drove six hours to the Cape Cod area of Massachusetts where we rented a quaint little Airbnb cottage walking distance to a private beach. We ate tons of lobster, clam chowder and shellfish, and distracted ourselves from the wait for the results of the extraction.
This round, 9 of the 13 eggs fertilized – I tried to stay so hopeful. My husband was cautiously optimistic, leaning on pessimistic. The numbers were bigger and better and so far, so good. But once more, we got the news that of the nine that fertilized, six continued to mature, and of the six matured, only one tested normal and viable.
At the end of a long nine month process, we had two frozen embryos for transfer for (hopeful) pregnancy, but we were tens of thousands of dollars lighter in our savings (sadly, our health insurance covers nothing related to fertility treatment or medications), exhausted from the needles, stirrups and ultrasounds, and anxious over it all.
The time had come for our first transfer and attempt at pregnancy. Like the previous rounds of egg extraction, there was more hormones, more needles, more 6am blood work appointments, more ultrasounds. The only difference was there were A LOT more of everything.
The hormone injection needles got bigger – a lot bigger. And the injection location got trickier. I had to inject myself in my lower back above my butt. I’ve never had to contort myself or guess about where and how to inject a needle BEHIND yourself, IN yourself. But we got through the two weeks of hormones and appointments, and a black and blue butt, all leading up to the transfer.
It was a quick but emotional experience. My endocrinologist walked us through the process and showed us on a monitor the hard-to-see but deeply moving process of transferring what we hoped and prayed would grow into a beautiful healthy human being.
Before we knew it, the transfer was over. The doctor sent us home and told us to just ‘act normal,’ not to stress or overexert ourselves and to just patiently wait. Again.
The transfer didn’t take.
Emotions peaked for both my husband and me. We were at a loss, and again, beyond heartbroken. We had lost nearly all optimism, motivation, hope.
It was then that we left the country and hit the giant RESET button on our lives for nine days. On a last minute but critically needed fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants trip, we traveled to the Greek isles and let all the beauty, the tranquility, the FOOD, the joy fill our hearts and replace the sadness and disappointment we felt up until our flight landed in Athens.
Wonder no more. I’ve been a bit distracted with life over the last year, and while my heart, passion and love for all things food has never wained, my time has been mostly focused elsewhere.
This journey has been long, it’s been incredibly challenging, but my husband and I are holding onto a semblance of hope for our second upcoming transfer. While nearly everything about this process is completely out of our hands, we’re taking it all one day at a time.
That’s it. That’s the story. It’s a lot. It’s deeply personal and incredibly intimate. I had to face some really scary things like poor Will in ‘Stranger Things.’ Okay, that is probably a bad analogy, but believe me, it felt like my life was upside down.
I feel so blessed and I’m so thankful for having this little journal and corner of the world wide webs to share of course not just those joyful things like delicious food, but to also share those moments of sadness and emotion.
I did promise myself that I would make more time to get back to what I love – this blog, making and experimenting with food, sharing that food with others through stories and photos. After my “upside down” year, I owe it to myself.
Be well, friends!
♥ – Becky