This month calls for a serious celebration! After what has been a seemingly never-ending health battle, I officially made it past the first trimester finish line a few weeks ago – one of the largest milestones and accomplishments in my life to date! Earlier last week I actually sobbed as I watched four tiny little arms and four tiny little legs kick and move inside of me and I have honestly never felt such relief from soooo much worry. The icing on the cake was getting the news we are expecting twin PRINCESSES. It is such a miracle, and as cliché as it sounds…. it already made every painful step of this process so worth it.
My journey to this moment really began five years ago when I received a call from my primary care physician informing me that they had found 2 large ovarian growths (what were thought of at the time as possible tumors) on my CT scan and that my CA125 (inflammation markers) were through the roof. I was uninsured at the time, and just newly dating my now husband who drove to me over an hour away to a free medical clinic for more scans and more tests which lead to a referral to an oncologist.
Oncologist = Cancer = Panic.
Ugh. That time in my life was not very much fun at all. I will never forget the dreadful sinking feeling in my stomach as we waited at the oncologist’s office for the results of all the poking and prodding. No one wants to hear from a doctor you may have cancer.
There had been days in the months leading up to that appointment that I would find myself in the fetal position on my bathroom floor throwing up from the retching pain radiating throughout my entire stomach. The cysts, which resulted from the endometriosis which I was diagnosed with later that afternoon, in combination with the inflammatory bowel disease (Ulcerative Colitis) that I had battled with since I was 16 years old, often left me in so much pain that I could barely breathe. I would sob and cry myself to sleep during certain weeks out of the month, and because eating made it worse I had lost so much weight that bones were protruding through my skin.
What I learned that day was that I was indeed sick, and unfortunately there were no real solutions for me other than taking drugs to minimize my symptoms or surgery to temporarily alleviate the pain. But there was no cure for endometriosis and no way to keep it from returning other than a full hysterectomy. The pain was going to simply remain a part of my life.
The doctor also informed me that this disease was often referenced to as the “single woman’s disease,” as it presented itself more commonly in women above the age of thirty who had never gotten pregnant or taken birth control pills. Getting pregnant was a wonderful way to throw the disease it in remission, but getting pregnant with the disease was likely to be a serious challenge, if possible at all. Talk about ironic. It was so early in my relationship with my husband that getting pregnant was certainly the last thing on my mind and yet the sudden realization that the possibility of the option was in question certainly confirmed that somewhere deep inside of me I did. To even talk about the risk of infertility with endometriosis instantaneously brought me to tears.
I was so sick of being sick, I was angry and terrified, and it honestly felt as though my body was completely failing me. But with my diagnosis I was determined to take control of my health. I started researching inflammation and autoimmune disorders to try and understand why my body was creating so many cysts and how to heal myself naturally. Because I had been sick to my stomach so often, I was only eating and drinking butter noodles and sprite on most days, and as you can imagine, that leaves a person pretty grossly malnourished. The lack of vitamins and minerals in my system came along with other sexy symptoms such as crippling anxiety, loosing my hair in clumps, and terrifying nightmares. It was safe to say I was a complete and utter hot mess.
It was not until I visited a chiropractor for the first time that I was asked anything about my diet, my hormone levels, what vitamins I was taking, or my physical activity. After going through a battery of food allergy/sensitivity tests and armed with a wealth of new information and knowledge, I vowed to completely change my lifestyle. I started by following the intensely restrictive Specific Carbohydrate Diet that really only allowed me to eat chicken, beef patties, applesauce, and cooked carrots for several months to reduce the inflammation throughout my entire body. I learned that because I had taken so many antibiotics throughout my lifetime that I had a complete imbalance of the bacteria in my gut (which is such a sexy word as well let me tell you), but it turns out the gut is essentially the nucleus of your immune system. Bad gut = bad health.
I started making my own yogurts and Keifers and loading up my system with Probotics. I slowly introduced additional foods, and worked like a scientist to note every change and symptom as I learned what my body accepted and what caused it to inflame again. I started juicing, sometime for weeks at a time, to give my body, which had had such a difficult time absorbing nutrients, a shot of the vitamins it was in such desperate need of. I started working out regularly for the very first time in my life. I focused on the mind/body connection and learned how to control my thoughts and manage my stress levels through yoga. I met an incredible woman named Suzanne Tucker who is a trauma and loss healer, and with her we began exploring the trauma of my childhood. I learned that unhealed emotional trauma could actually cause physical ailments. It turns out that the body never forgets.
Empowered by my newfound healthy lifestyle, I opened THE NEST: a restaurant and community center for women and children that focused on restorative health and balance through lifestyle and food. It was around this same time that my husband and I started trying to get pregnant. We were not really quite ready yet, but because the doctor had warned us it would likely be a timely journey, we knew it was best to get the “party started” so to speak. A friend recommended another chiropractor, Stephanie Sanger of Clayton Wellness that specialized fertility acupuncture. My treatments with Doctor Stephanie were by and far one of the most life changing things I did to rebalance my entire system. Armed with such an incredible team, the progression I was making was incredible as was my body became stronger and stronger and stronger and I felt healthier and healthier.
I continued to experiment with every “voodoo” and “natural” fertility trick in the book. I read infertility blogs, I spent hours upon hours in chat rooms for people struggling with infertility, I did flipping handstands for Pete’s sake. And while the combination of my lifestyle changes had transformed me and had almost healed my health issues completely, I was still not getting pregnant.
Anyone who has gone through infertility knows the ovulation/tracking dance. They know the 2ww symptom obsession. They know the sinking feeling and horrific sight of the single line on the pregnancy test after so much focus and dedication. It is truly an awful experience. Months and years were passing by and as much as I wanted to hold out hope, I knew somewhere deep inside of me that was time to see a real doctor and consider medical intervention.
Because of my mothers sickness I had already developed a lifelong distrust of the medical field, but since the loss of my very best friend from prescription drugs, I was left with a more intense phobia of modern day medicine. The last time I had stepped foot in a hospital was the day I had to say goodbye to her, but even long before that experience, I had pretty much avoided taking medication at all costs. At the base of it all, was this huge fear of what these drugs would do to my health, but more importantly, what they would make me feel. I could barely tolerate birth control without going nuts – so the thought of throwing a hormonal nuclear bomb into my system felt like absolute dooms day to me. I just didn’t want to do it. It just seemed so unfair that the most natural thing in the world was going to need me to take such unnatural steps to make happen. I was emotionally stuck as they say.
But if I have learned one thing throughout this journey, it is that a mother will find courage face almost any feat and endure any amount of pain for her children…. It truly is quite incredible.
Fast forward to a little over two years after the tragic loss of my best friend, and I am being wheeled being wheeled to the surgery room at that same hospital by my incredible fertility doctor (Doctor Odem from Washington University Infertility). Looking back I do realize that I had suffered some type of Post Traumatic Stress from that loss and hospital experience, but I also knew that I trusted this doctor more than any other doctor I had ever met. He had spent over a year slowly holding space for me to take baby steps into accepting medical intervention and never pushed me or treated me like I was crazy for being so afraid. He also was willing to attempt surgery prior to IVF because he knew that even though IVF would likely bring his practice faster results, I was not ready to face my fear and he respected my wishes totally and completely. I will never forget the look in his eyes as they were strapping down my arms and I was shaking with fear as he said “don’t worry I am going to take care of you.”
And he did just that. He was able to remove scar tissue, and cysts, and fibroids and endometriosis tissue from my body. For the first time in as long as I could remember I had a menstrual cycle where my pain was non-existent. Surgery was so much easier than I ever would have thought and looking back, I wish I had done it so much earlier. Following that surgery my husband and I were hopeful and optimistic that my health had been restored enough to naturally conceive a child, but it only took 6 months before the painful cramping and heavy bleeding had returned and I knew the endometriosis was back and we were still not getting pregnant.
It was heartbreaking.
After the third IUI treatment failed and The Nest closed its doors, I was absolutely at the rock bottom and emotional low of my entire journey. I remember sitting in doctor Odem’s office and completely breaking down when talking about the next steps. All of the failed pregnancy attempts on top of my business failures were continuing to re-trigger the losses of my childhood and aching of yearning for something that others seemed to have so naturally and I had to fight so hard for. I remember telling him “I was done, and I simply couldn’t do it anymore.”
“Do not give up.”
He agreed that I probably needed to take a break. He supported me wanting to let it all go and spend some time in my life rebuilding and rebalancing myself emotionally. I knew I wanted to be truly present in my life instead of yearning for more. But he also nudged me for the very first time, almost so gently that it was a whisper that he truly believed IVF would work for me, that I can and will give birth someday, and while I can go away for awhile not to be gone for too long. When I look back and think of Doctor Odem and the way he waited for me for over two years before that nudge, the way he always listened to me, the way he never once pushed his medicine on me and allowed to get there in my own time, I am overwhelmed by gratitude.
Taking that break was the best thing I ever did for myself. It was during that break that Eclat emerged, and like a Phoenix I learned to rise. I wrote an entire post of what Eclat is all about and what a life-changing year that year was for me. After more therapy and support from the incredible Suzanne Tucker, I finally faced my other big phobia of flying when I returned to Paris, the location of my very first panic attack. She helped me get “unstuck” and find the courage to take control of all fear in my life. I was untangling the web of what was my intuition of what I did and did not want for me life and what my real truth was for my life. There is this incredible Indigo Girls song that was sort of my sadness serenade at the time (and a perfect infertility song by the way” and there is a line in that song that rang so true for me that the time that read
“And I wish her insight to battle love’s blindness
Strength from the milk of human kindness
A safe place for all the pieces that scattered
Learn to pretend there’s more than love that matters”
But when you feel like you are on the outside of other peoples lives and that you are looking in a window at this love that you are wanting so desperately to experience but you cant get to it, it is incredible what fear of never having it will do to convince you what you do or do not feel or do or do not what. In some ways you do pretend that love doesn’t matter anymore. As I continued to untangle this messy web in therapy, and devour every single book I could get my hands on, I somehow really began to shift my thinking that my failures and my vulnerabilities were what made me weak and something to fear and learned that vulnerability is actually what made me the strong and as Suzanne taught me, what made me a love warrior.
Brene Brown, one of my very favorite authors and speakers on vulnerability said in her novel “Rising Strong,”
“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”
And one day I was finally strong enough to endure the pain of the disappointment and the failures for the possibility and hope of the love that life could bring. I was willing to find the courage inside of myself to stop running from my fears and to face them head on. The largest and biggest of these was my biggest fear of going through this process of getting and remaining pregnant, which has hands down been a journey through the most vulnerable I have ever felt in my entire lifetime.
Our first IVF cycle started with Lupron, which is a down regulation drug that throws you into menopause in order to reboot your menstrual cycles. Honestly out of all of my IVF cycles and the entire process, that drug was probably the hardest part for me, but then again everyone reacts to every medication differently. For as rock solid I was emotionally the day I took my first pill, it was incredible how quickly that medication took a toll on my psyche. I had extreme waves of depression and anxiety almost overnight. After weathering the storm of the medication I was absolutely devastated to find out that I had developed a rather large cyst that would prevent me from continuing to retrieval and had to cancel my cycle after weeks of forcing myself to tolerate that drug.
It took three months for the cyst to clear enough to get the go ahead to start again with a new medication and a new protocol Even my husband was a bit overwhelmed and fearful when all of the medication arrived in the mail. It is actually quite unbelievable the number of pills, injections, and needles, you go through. I had to learn to inject myself because my tuff guy Boston husband was even bothered by the size of some of these needles and could not bring himself to give them to me.
And at the end of my second IVF cycle, after stopping my eggs from ovulating through a different medication (short protocol), and then pushing them to work as hard as they possibly could, I ended up with about as many eggs retrieved as a woman naturally produces over the course of a year. The process had caused me to overstimulate – a lovely side effect called Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome, which I learned seems to effect younger women with low body mass indexes. Because I had developed two lead follicles so early in my stimulation and they had grown to over 30+ mm as we allowed other follicles to catch up, my estrogen was absolutely through the roof. The OHSS caused me to retain fluid and I looked like I was 6 months pregnant. I was extremely out of breath and it was truly painful to be completely honest. When I woke up from surgery I was extremely hopeful so many eggs had made it out of my body and I was so relived to be able to give my body a break to heal and balance itself out again. We decided to fertilize all of the embryos and freeze them in order to allow me to recover and to avoid any serious side effects of OHSS. A day later I received devastating news that out of my large batch of eggs, only three had actually fertilized and the rest had been lost. I was devastated because I knew the statistics were not very high that all three would make it to three day embryos, than 5 day embryos, than survive the thaw and then implant.
But two of those little embryos managed to do just that. My miracle angel babies.
The day we implanted those two perfect embryos was one of the happiest and exiting days of my life. I was singing and laughing in the procedure room and watching on the monitor as they placed those two little sacs of cells inside of me.
The two-week wait following that FET is absolute hell but looking back I do think I “intuitively” knew I was pregnant almost 48 hours after that implantation although I emerged myself in self-doubt at the time. The cramping was really surprising and I didn’t really expect that but I had this overwhelming “feeling” I was pregnant. I was taking estradiol (estrogen) and progesterone in the days leading up to the FET and the ramp up period while on those drugs was extremely difficult. Its safe to say I was a complete raging “you know what” for a good three weeks. I had never experienced such anger and rage. Half of me was so absolutely elated at the real likelihood that I could be pregnant, and half of me was too busy loosing my *&^& over the tiniest things. Looking back the insanity of the hormones is really quite hilarious.
A little over a week after my transfer procedure I finally got to experience this….
Those first 48 hours was like walking on air. I was literally floating I was so high. What I had not anticipated was how quickly that high was replaced by an unfathomable amount of worry. Because I had experienced so many losses and miscarriage previously I was absolutely consumed by fear of loosing the baby. I spent an embarrassing amount of time trolling for air and as my dear friend and IVF veteran said I was afraid to pick up a paperclip. I drank warming teas, I ate warming foods, I listened to mantras and guided meditations, my favorite of these was a reoccurring mantra I found with a British woman assuring me that “my womb was the perfect home for my baby.” I could have burned down a church with how many prayer candles I lit, I assembled a little alter at home and prayed like a warrior to marry and to Saint Gerard. I wore blessed medals and met with my priest. Looking back I realize how completely consumed I was during those first few weeks and how I was holding on literally for dear life for the baby to not leave my body.
My first ultrasound was probably the most incredible experience of my life other than meeting Habi for the first time (which is really hard to top). Imagine the shock and awe of watching as they found not one, but two tiny little heartbeats on the monitor. Both of my miracle babies had fought and found their way to life. The minute I saw both heartbeats there was a moment of relief. I remember thinking, even if they go away and don’t make it, this moment was enough and worth everything I have gone through, but honestly in so many ways, you still do not want to truly bond with your child(ren) yet to protect yourself in case something does happy. Your heart says “go ahead and love them” and your head says “don’t get too attached,” but love them I did, and love them I do. After five years, surgeries, shots, medicines, losses, facing phobias, and sitting in the most open and vulnerable place for longer than I could have ever imagined, I finally have my rainbows at the end of the storm.
Madeleina and Aveline (Ava Grace and Lola Rose) are everything I could have ever wished for, and I honestly could not be more blessed and grateful to be here and thankful to the many people who have been my support system in getting to this place. More than anyone else I am so beyond thankful to my husband for remaining my true teammate and partner through this incredibly difficult journey. He has walked by my side as we have gone through so many ups and downs in this war together and it really isn’t until recently as I have gotten to experience his happiness and joy over these little rainbows that I realize just how hard this whole thing had been on him as well. I think sometimes because we are women and we are the ones physically enduring the treatments the husbands don’t ever pipe up and express how challenging it is for them as well, and Im so thankful that he remained hopeful and optimistic and strong for me throughout the entire process. He never once doubted we would be here, even though I now have a sneaking suspicion he was just as worried all along.
Last, I will leave this post with this. Because never have truer words been spoken.