Monday, November 24, 2008

Optional Reading

The river only seems to flow backwards.

I nestle in the callused hand of the earth. I am new life pushing through the soil's crust. I spread my roots downward to vestiges of water, reaching for my Creator. If I am cut back I will emerge in a new place; send a soft, green bud to look again.

I am the fair, pink blossom in search of a bee, seeking to prolong my life against all odds, against the certainty of my death. I have endless flowers for You in my growing center, in the stems and shoots my soul puts out in all directions. Some day my tired leaves will nourish You. Watch out for me; send the red-winged blackbird to bring me home

Meditation on Psalm 91, part III
Janet Berkenfield, 1991

I never ever read the inspirational poems that other people post. I just can't do it. I guess I overdid it on the poetry in high school. I swore I'd never post anything inspirational. But apparently that isn't stopping me.

I first noticed this piece in our Chavurah's (think very small synagogue, with no rabbi, filled with hippies) home grown prayer book during the TWW for what was ultimately this pregnancy. I was in that place where you are hoping, yet trying so hard not to hope.

This poem gave me a sense that we could keep going. That cycle was very long and didn't look good. My egg was really old (day 27) and at several points it had looked like we'd have to skip the cycle. Surely it was just more wasted vials. But after I read this, I really believed that if someone was in there, they were trying their absolute best to persevere, and that if they didn't make it, or had never even had a chance, they would come back again. Somehow it hit the right mix of pessimism and hope, not in opposition to each other, but as part of the same whole. As I read it now, as we are trying to find a way as a family through was is turning out to be a rather difficult first trimester, ultimately looking forward to birth, it keeps turning over new meanings.

So I offer it here, in case anyone actually reads inspirational things. Maybe it will hit the right blend of pessimism and hope for someone else.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Acupuncture poster child, Part II

(See some of the backstory in Part I)

My first cycle with acupuncturist Li was excruciating. It was extremely long, and when I started bleeding at work on the first day of my period, the pain was so extreme I nearly passed out. My new boss (I had only been on the job about a month, fabulous first impression, no?) nearly called an ambulance but I managed to convince her not to, and instead she kindly gave me a ride home since a bike ride was clearly impossible. The period lasted longer than usual, and was heavier than usual. I was miserable. Li was thrilled.

The very next cycle, my temps started to move up a bit, I ovulated, and the next period wasn't nearly as bad. She moved me through several rounds of herbs meant to do various things I didn't comprehend (what does "tonify blood" mean?). In the year or so that I was with Li before the cycle that worked, I only missed ovulation on one cycle. As my cycles regularized (about 32-36 days), my mucus improved, and it became possible (though not necessarily easy) to identify ovulation with signs and a vast collection of OPKs, I started to have hope my body really could do this. Gail and I decided to still get basic labs with an RE (which we had not done for Gail), which I did in March 08. The RE gave me the all clear, despite being fairly dubious as to why my hormone levels were fine after I had described my history (and asking for Li's contact info for her other patients). I told Li we were ready to try. After all, we'd given her far more than the three cycles she had originally asked for, and she said, I kid you not, "You don't try this time. You will have a miscarriage." After much badgering I managed to get out of her that she wanted my post-ovulation temps higher, consistently above 98, and was concerned I did not have adequate progesterone yet. I put it off one more cycle but I had been waiting so long. You can only push a girl so far, and I don't know many women who would wait through nearly a year of acupuncture before trying at all. I decided my body might not be perfect, but I had semi-reliable fertility signs and did ovulate regularly now. We decided that if I could identify ovulation, we would try. Li reluctantly agreed, but wanted me to use progesterone cream on that first try.

At that point, Li and I had gotten into a bit of a battle of the wills. I felt so dependent on her. She had done for me something I thought was impossible and I was deeply indebted to her. But on the other hand, plenty of straight women had even worse cycles and got pregnant just fine. I knew that if I never tried, I really would never get pregnant. As I moved slowly through 3 cycles of trying, interrupted by break cycles due to travel and one anovulatory cycle, she gradually seemed to approve more and more of each try, and I felt a little less like I was fighting her tooth and nail. But on the cycle that worked, she still thought maybe we shouldn't try because I'd been sick and recently traveled, even though she said my hormones were great. But we did it anyway, because I finally actually got that OPK smiley face, and it was our last shot at the three year spacing I so coveted. Obviously, I'm so glad that we did. I can't believe that starting where I did a year and a half ago, I ended up getting pregnant without meds, on the 4th cycle trying. Now when I see Li, she's practically busting at the seams with pride, though at my visit to try to fix this constant nausea last week, her first words were "Why you carry that heavy bag!? Don't ride your bike! Walk slowly!!" I hadn't seen her in over a month, and it felt kind of like when you come home from college, and your mom starts to nag you right away. You know it's out of love and concern, but you're still annoyed.

So there you have it. I probably had no business getting pregnant without meds, with frozen sperm. If I were someone else, If I were older, had a different history or didn't have such deep concerns about the medical system and its inherent undisclosed risks, maybe it wouldn't have been worth the time, work and money (at least $3600 total for acupuncture alone). I certainly don't begrudge those who head to the RE right out of the gate, and if we'd gone on for several more unmedicated cycles unsuccessfully, we would have been there, too, and grateful for the help. But I am so glad that we gave my body this chance. Along the way, Li fixed longstanding problems with headaches and evened me out a bit emotionally, somehow helping me gain a reserve of calm I thought was only possible for folks with less fiery temperaments. Is acupuncture a cure all? Probably not. It has yet to fix my morning sickness, and I could really do without that. Is it potentially powerful if you can give it time to work? In my case at least, with a skilled practitioner, yes. But even I got impatient, and I was bound and determined to give it a full shot, so I'm sure that means it isn't for everyone. If you're in the thick of trying, it is excruciating to give up one cycle, let alone 3, or 6. I'm happy to provide a referral (if you still want one after I described all that nagging) to other Eastern MA folks. I swear by Li, even though she sometimes kind of drives me crazy.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Acupuncture poster child, Part I

I've gotten a several questions lately about my acupuncture treatment, so I thought I'd post them in case other folks are looking for information. I'm kind of an acupuncture poster child, and I don't mean to imply, in that way that anecdotal evidence does, that acupuncture will work for everyone else just as well. But what happened was absolutely true for me and my body, albeit in an n=1 sort of way.

I started tracking my menstrual cycles in Jan 07 in anticipation of starting to try as early as August 07. It quickly became apparent my cycles were not as they should be. This shouldn't have come as a surprise. I already knew that I bled inconsistently and, when I was younger, sometimes so heavily that I had to stay home from work or school. I had excruciatingly painful periods, the kind of pain that ibuprofen couldn't touch and that sometimes made work impossible. In the past I had been on prescription drugs known to cause PCOS and hormonal/menstrual problems (not that I was told of these risks when they were prescribed, and not that my doctors ever inquired about how these drugs were impacting my cycles). But the drugs had been out of my system for a while, and I was much healthier than in the past, so I still felt surprised my cycles weren't behaving. I had been in some measure of denial about what a long road it might be to get this particular body pregnant, and seeing my crappy cycles, laid out in black and white, on Gail's homemade spreadsheet, was crushing.

My temps were so low we had to make a new custom chart, often in the mid-96's, and only rarely out of the low 97's, even when I got that coveted biphasic ovulation chart. My cycles ran between about 19 and 40 days, and luteal phases, when they happened, could be as short as 8 days. I could identify biphasic patterns suggestive of ovulation in about a third of my cycles, if that, and even on those cycles, OPKs did not seem to predict ovulation. I had no meaningful quantity of cervical mucus, and my uterus was positioned such that feeling my cervix, either for mucus or position/softness was impossible. Absolutely nothing was lining up and I started to ask around about REs, bitter that I was probably going to have to start the process at the doctors office with lots of drugs, instead of on our own, as we had conceived Leigh.

But I decided that since we weren't yet actively ready to try, and since I felt so seriously about only seeing an RE if I really needed the help, I would first give acupuncture a solid go. Acupuncture had helped to regulate my cycles in the past, had fixed Gail's short luteal phase in only 2-3 cycles, and started Gail's labor when she went 10 days overdue. I started in Spring of 07 with the practitioner who had fixed Gail's cycle, and though I think her work helped to regulate me a bit, she didn't seem to understand my problems. She kept giving me herbs to take pre- and post-ovulation when it wasn't at all clear or predictable when I ovulated, and never seemed to take meaningful diagnostic information (either asking questions, or doing those usual chinese medicine things like taking my pulse or looking at my tongue). I felt like I couldn't get any information out of her. After a few cycles with her, I switched to the practitioner, named Li, who had started Gail's labor and I had heard from a friend would tell me exactly what she thought, for good or ill.

When I walked into my first appointment with Li, she exclaimed over how horribly red my face was (I had just biked to the appointment...sheesh!). She asked me if I was quick to anger (umm....kind of) and seemed concerned with the color of my hair ("too red!"). She had lots of concerns over how much water seemed to be retained in my (relatively slim) abdomen and kept putting my finger on my belly after she had placed the needles, saying, "See? Feel that? It is so wet." I couldn't feel a thing. She looked at my charts, and muttered things about needing to "clean me out" and made me swear that I wouldn't try for at least three cycles. She peppered the conversation with barely intelligible tales of women with horrible problems she had fixed. All of this was made even more surreal by the fact that the appointment took place in her office that had recently suffered a fire started in the restaurant next door, and thus had no electricity, no plumbing and no heat. But I heard she was a miracle worker. And I needed a miracle...

To be continued in Part II

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

One of the reasons why

If I had written before this worked, about my personal reasons for wanting so badly to be pregnant (other than the obvious reason that Gail and I wanted another child), my reasons would have had a lot to do with pregnancy being a way to reconnect with my body, and as a way to have evidence that my body worked, after years of neglect and mistreatment. I've implied before, that I've not been treated kindly at the hands of western medical care. In particular, by agreeing to care that I did, for nearly a decade, for a condition it turned out I didn't even have, I exposed my body to extremely dangerous drugs that damaged my overall health and may have also damaged my reproductive health. I worked extremely hard for many years to extract myself from that system of "care" in a way that protected my body from further harm. Once I was free, I was so angry at myself for having been sucked in, for being so naive and accepting, for just believing what I was told without understanding the deep risks to which I was exposing my body. Honestly, I have yet to completely forgive myself, and still have healing to do. But some piece of that healing, and some piece of why I did not want to go on fertility meds unless absolutely necessary, was wanting to have some sort of evidence that my body was healed, even if my heart wasn't. I hoped that maybe pregnancy and birth would be a way to reconnect with my body, a way to redevelop a trust that I had long ago betrayed.

Somehow this seems so over-dramatic and perhaps ill-advised when it is written out, especially since so much can go so wrong during pregnancy and birth, that it's probably best to avoid putting too much pressure on the proceedings. But lesbians have to work so hard to get knocked up anyway, there's no way many of us head into this with reasonable expectations.

But here I am now, feeling crappy in the first trimester. I'm so thrilled that we have an actual baby in here, the kind with a heartbeat, but I'm still finding the experience itself challenging, and I'm trying to see if even now, I can find a way to use even the crappy parts as a way to reconnect. So far, I'm trying to listen to my body, to sleep because it says it needs to, to feed it. I'm trying not to be angry that I feel this way, and remember that so far it seems I'm doing a pretty good job growing our kid. Maybe for now, that's enough. I'm getting the feeling that as far as paths of reconciliation go, I may have picked a rocky one. Maybe I should have just stuck with the yoga.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Body snatchers

At our first official midwife prenatal visit today (as opposed to our earlier consult in which we mostly talked logistics), after being totally prepped that it was unlikely at 9 1/2 weeks, we...drumroll please...heard the heartbeat over the doppler (just barely, underneath the very loud whooshing of a placenta). Holy **** people. Someone is in there!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

I couldn't be happier, but ...

My wife is kind of an NGP ("non-gestational parent") master. Really, she’s quite good at being a non-bio mom. She’s like those professional ice skaters that make it look completely effortless. Sure, I remember back in those days when I was pregnant with Leigh and we had many conversations that included expressions of frustration and tears (from one or both of us). I learned a lot from watching Lyn as an NGP. One of the biggest things that I learned is that non-bio moms can and should be a central part of their families. In some families (especially some heterosexual families, but in some lesbian families as well), the bio mom and kids together form the inner core of the family with the non-bio mom (or father in the case of traditional families) in a satellite orbit. When I was pregnant with Leigh, Lyn and I had a vision of a family that had room for two moms at the core. After Leigh was born, we went about making that vision a reality.

So when it came time to do my own stint as non-bio mom, I went into the task with some confidence. I understood what this would be like – after all I’d really been through the whole thing with Lyn. And I had the advantage of already being a mom and thus feeling very confident that I would never feel like an outsider in my own family.

But there is one thing that I forgot about. Pregnancy. How could I forget about pregnancy? Pregnancy is the ultimate two-person party to which no crashers are allowed. I suddenly find myself in a wobbly orbit around a planet that I thought didn’t exist.

Have I mentioned what a happy pregnant woman I used to be? OK, I’m sure I wasn’t happy the first trimester, but I blocked that memory out. Once the second trimester rolled around I spent the next six months looking and acting like the fat cat that ate the canary. Luckily I had a very enthusiastic and supportive wife who put up with my strutting and preening, who struggled and worried as we worked through structuring our developing family, but who never tried to push me out of that limelight of pregnancy.

Honestly, I don’t want to be pregnant again. At least not very much. At least not the bad parts. I really don’t want to feel sick and exhausted, to pee 200 times a night, and to have hips that never stop aching. But it sure is nice to have everyone worrying about you and treating you with special kindness because you contain a miraculous secret. It sure is nice to have everyone smiling at you and standing up to give you their seat on the bus. It sure is nice that somebody new is growing inside of you and that to that somebody new you are the whole universe.
Now Lyn is taking a turn at being the whole universe to a little one that’s about the size of a grape right now. And I’m really excited that I’m going to be a mom again in eight months. But I hadn’t quite realized that I would be in a strictly supportive role for those eight months. I know, I know, that was probably obvious to all of you. I had just gotten so used to sharing all of the aspects of parenting, I forgot that this one really can’t be shared. I guess in this case, the sharing already happened, and is on a longer time scale. And of course I’m involved in the ways I can be (midwife appointments, planning, etc), but none of that will bring me truly out of orbit and into the core. I guess I have to wait for that.

Monday, November 3, 2008

A personal plea

I Recently sent this note to a few members of my loving but quite conservative extended family. We'll See. To those of you in CA, we're cheering you on (and did send cash).


Dear Family--

I have debated extensively whether or not to send a note to my loved ones in California. I generally try to steer well clear of political discussions with family, but this one hits too close to home. After the warm welcome you extended when we visited in June, I want to think
that you will already be remembering me and my small family as you get to Proposition 8 on your ballot, but I know that the issue of same-sex marriage is a difficult one, for many reasons, so I would like to remind you what a difference it would make for you to vote No on Prop 8.

Gail and I have been blessed to have the protection of state marriage rights in Massachusetts. Because we are legally married, I had parental rights as one of Leigh's moms as soon as she was born, even though Gail gave birth. We still had to complete an expensive second parent
adoption, as well as additional legal papers (like powers of attorney, and healthcare proxys) to protect us when we travel, but it was such a reassurance to know that we didn't have to worry about the legal integrity of our family at the same time we were struggling to adjust to life with our newborn over two years ago, and to know that families like mine are now treated fairly as a matter of routine by the legal system in our home state.

Marriages like ours have been legal in Massachusetts for over 4 years now. Despite the dire predictions, life has gone on completely as normal, only now families like mine are treated with respect and acceptance. Many of our legal and administrative nightmares have gone out the window, as we can now simply and easily explain our relationship to our employers, our friends, our family...and even the government workers at the social security office. It is difficult to express what a profound sense of relief it is not to have to fight to protect our family at every step of the way. We still face many legal hurdles, particularly at the Federal level, but state marriage rights have provided our family with much needed stability and recognition.

I have heard, even all the way out here on the East Coast, campaigning saying that marriages like mine must be banned in order to protect California children. I ask you to remember that the children who will be truly effected by Proposition 8 are those like my own daughter, Leigh, children who will have a much more stable and secure family if their parents retain their right to marry.

I know this is a difficult issue. I know this is a huge shift for us culturally. I've seen and understand what a profound task it was for my parents to grow to accept and embrace my family. I deeply understand the combined sense of conviction and protection that might lead you to cast a vote that would hurt families like mine. But I ask you to remember, your marriages will remain solid and your children will remain safe if you vote NO on 8; the only real effect will be to make thousands of families headed by loving same-sex couples, families that already exist, legally safe and secure.

Respectfully and with love,