Sunday, September 14, 2014

Pieces of Me... IUI Cycle #4, in Photos

"The most difficult times cause you to grow the most." 

So we all know round 4 of IUI failed, and we are taking a break from fertility treatments for a bit. 

A break from medications that make me feel crazy, give me intense headaches, and make me miserable. A break from self-injections and facing my needle fears. A break from taking these meds at a specific time each night, no matter our life plans (Thankfully I was able to do all while home so far, but if we kept going this month, I would have had to do an injection at the Shakespeare festival, I would have had to miss the first day of school, and who knows what else). A break from driving 50 mins to the clinic multiple times, all between the hours of 7 and 8 am. If a school morning, that means getting up at 5, leaving by 5:45 to ensure I arrive at the clinic around 6:35 to try and be the first person (1st come, 1st serve- they open at 7), so I can leave no later than 7:20 and drive 50 mins to work and pray I make it in time. Doing the walk of shame and walking into school at the same times as the kids, or even 1-2 mins later is a very stressful situation, as I am usually one of the first people at school, a whole 20-30 mins before we need to contractually be there. A break from wishing my life away in 2-week increments. Each cycle was measured by 2 weeks that I wanted to fly- the first two to fly so IUI time could arrive... the 2nd two to fly so I could see if I was pregnant or not. The whole summer was that way, and now it's long gone, a distant memory. 

A break from stress. A time for Scott & I to rebuild our relationship and focus on US... Just the two of us, and nothing else. Only things that serve us and make us happy (individually and together). 

Almost a month after the last failed cycle, I've experienced all kinds of crazy emotions. Denial. Anger. Near-depression. Frustration. Deep sadness. Confusion.... then finally acceptance and positivity. Positivity that we will be okay. We can take this time to build on ourselves and become better as a couple. Take time to have fun and kind of start over again. Not letting this ridiculous infertility ride define us and consume us like it was. Learning to not take every coincidence as a sign of something certain. A rainbow is just that, a really cool sight and something beautiful in the sky. It doesn't mean a positive pregnancy test is happening right now. Hopefully it's coming, but I can't allow myself to be all-consumed by the coincidences in life. Smile at them, acknowledge them, and then let them float on by. 

Anyone that knows me, knows I take a ZILLION photos... really. Sometimes a zillion in one day. haha. I drive my friends and family crazy with the things I take pictures of, I've been the selfie queen since before the selfie trend was even a thing. I've documented each IUI process in pics, (meds, things I've done, day of, etc.) hoping each time would be THE time, and I could keep these pics as souvenirs and memories of the journey. But each time it fails, I'm asked what I'll do with the pics. Keep them or trash them? I can't part with pics of anything, so for now they're all stored on my phone or computer. Maybe some day I'll share them all, but I thought I would def share those of this past cycle because it was the most intense. 5 nights of injections, and much more. 

So, here we go... a recap of the 4th and most recent IUI process, in photos. They're all in order, from pretty much the whole month of August. Enjoy! 

Welcome to the big leagues... Meds, meds, and more meds... 1st time getting the monster sharps container~ EEEK!! 

Rx of Femarra (Letrozole)... Headache city. I can't believe I'm saying this, but I actually tolerated Clomid better in terms of physical effects and moods.

Motherload of Sharps containers... No hiding this bad boy!

Gonal-F Redi-ject pen... Follicle Stimulating Meds. 4 nights of this!!! 

A sign from my mama sits on our kitchen windowsill, as a great reminder. :)

Day 1 of injections~ Here we go!! 

HAHAHA!!!! It's true... Now this isn't just a fun Zumba/dancing song, it's my anthem for getting pumped up before injections!!! #loser 

This bad boy is empty... One step down. 5 pills done.

I was feeling pretty excited about keeping my toned muscles that I worked so hard for prior to this cycle.... *Spoiler alert: Little did I know those freaking meds and my emotions would cause me to gain those pounts right back, faster than I took them off. (*Sigh*). No pic now, it's just chub-a-lub. But this is motivation. :) I'm working on getting it back. Don't judge- I'm little, 5-10 pounds can make or break me and the way my clothes fit. 

Self-explanatory. Our rainbow will come. 

Some sources of inspiration... my good luck charms. 

Up-close look at the Gonal-F needle... Really tiny, I know. It honestly isn't that bad. But every time I see this and have to stick it in my belly, I scream and shout inside, and it makes me super nervous!

Day 2~ Gotta laugh it off. Only fair. 

Heard this is a good fertility food (drink). So, drinking a glass each day became a part of my routine. I love pom-flavored stuff, but man this stuff is strong. 

Not a fertility food... but a HIGHLY recommended emotional/Happy food! :) 
DELICIOUS stuff... every flavor is simply incredible!

HAHAHA.... A little inside humor with the TTC girls and guys, as they are probably the only ones who know the meaning of this. ;)

Amen.... And silly us. "Insurance covers unlimited IUI..." This is only partially true. We realized that we still had to dish out between $1,000 and $1,500 a cycle. Don't get me wrong, I am incredibly thankful my insurance plan covers the bulk of it. But here's what's NOT covered and what we spent each cycle: *
*1 Vial of sperm (2 needed on hand each cycle, 1 as a backup): approx. $750
*$20 copay each visit (blood draws, ultrasound, etc)- approx. $60+
*Sperm thaw: $75
*IUI copay: $25
*Co-pay on all meds: $50+
*Acupuncture: $100/visit (about 3-4 visits a cycle)
...Not to mention all the money we dished out on Scott's urologist appointments, surgery, procedures, semen analyses, blood draws, follow-ups, testosterone treatments, etc. 

*This is in no way a plea for help. We are financially stable and I'm so fortunate Scott is so money conscious, smart, and thrifty! If I was in charge, we would surely be in debt. Let's just say I like to spend money. :( I am getting better though!! :) :) 

So, a break from IUI also means SAVING MONEY!!! :) :) YAY!

I try to turn anything into a photo-op! :) 
Attaching a new needle cap to my injection pen. 

Day 3! Getting better each time! Becoming a pro!! :)

Amazing book I started reading during cycle 3, in July. The Two Week Wait.
I recommend it, even to you naturally fertile people. It's a good read. :)

Day 4!! :) Grow, follicles, grow!
(I went for an ultrasound that morning~ they initially said 3 days of shots, but the Dr. wanted my 2 follicles to grow one more day. So another round of shots it was!)

Fingers crossed!! Please let this work.
*Photo-bombed by Kokopelli, fertility god.
(I don't think he likes me too much)

Trigger shot time! My old buddy, Ovidrel. I had done this shot 3x before. Piece of cake each time!

Even though I had been the most used to this shot... I FREAKED this time. It was about 4x as much liquid than the ones I had done earlier in the week, so suddenly it seemed way harder! I also had to jab myself almost twice because I tensed up and it didn't go in at first. 

Stick a fork in it~ that's a wrap!! At the time, I was celebrating and hoping this was THE last time I would need any injections for the baby-making process... #fool. Shame on me. But pretty cool pic of all the needle and needle caps. 

Scott is my rock. He's been SO good on shot nights, Every. Single. Time. 
Always patient with me. Always supportive. Thank you. <3 

Holding the Ovidrel and ready for go time.
Super freaked out! But these pics pump me up and make me feel strong. 
(See the bloat kicking in... damn you, meds. I miss my semi-flat stomach)

*~* A little advice. *~*

*IUI DAY... on the road to Norwalk, CT at like 6:30am*

*Go-time!! "Just keep swimming..."
The procedure itself takes literally 2 minutes. Then you lay there for about 5 mins, and you're good to go. 

Rocking my new custom #TeamRicci tank... <3 <3


Fresh pineapple & pineapple core is always a staple for the first 5 days of the two-week wait. The core is said to have an enzyme that makes your uterine lining somewhat sticky, helping the embryo attach. I love pineapple anyway, so always figured it couldn't hurt.

One of my closest friends (and coworkers- lucky me!!) painted sand dollars with her son while on vacation in FL (during our two-week wait... little did she know), and she painted the one on the left in honor of Scott & I, and the rainbow baby we are so patiently waiting for. Love you, Jess! <3 #blessed

During the 2-week wait, it's best to stay busy!! I spent a weekend at my aunt's house in Long Island, hanging with some of my fav cousins. 2 of them surprised me with this new addition to my Alex & Ani collection, because it's a symbol for fertility. Thanks Janine & Britt, I love you guys! <3

A few days later came the Big, Dark storm cloud. I felt like Eeyore with a cloud following me wherever I went. I was not my usual perky, positive self... 

Totally how I felt. Like I (we) hit rock bottom. 

My cousin, Heather, sent me this in a text. I know she LOVES Starbucks and shopping... so this was super cute and sweet! <3

EXACTLY how I felt... Grrrrr. Screw you, baby Nazi. 

My sweet, sweet, friend, Gemma (an IG sis from Australia!) sent me this as a wonderful reminder and pickup. It really sums it all up perfectly. We have been trying to be parents for just about THREE YEARS soon... and a lot of friends are becoming new parents, having more kids, getting pregnant right away, and I keep feeling left behind in the dust. BUT, it's not how far we still have to go, it's where we've come from, what we know now, and how we'll move forward with it. 

My horoscope 2 days after knowing the cycle failed... Ironic how spot on it was. 
By this time, I had realized that the blessing in disguise was putting everything else on hold, throwing it all in the backseat, and focusing on my relationship with Scott. It's like this is what we needed in order to not lose ourselves together. 

We had a BBQ with some close friends, already scheduled. The last thing I wanted to do was be around anyone, but I allowed myself to drink a lot and just feel the emotions. My BFF, Alli (& her hubby/daughter) brought us these beautiful flowers. Nothing like some best friends to show support. It turned out to be just what I needed. 

My lesson in all of this. Scott is the one who will always be there, front and center, for it all. 15 years strong, it's always been, and always will be, just the two of us. Even after we've had our baby(babies) and they've grown and moved on, Scott is the one who will, God-willing, be there at the end of the day. LOVE comes first. All you need is Love~ Love is all you need. 

I have been blown away by the support circle around US (me~ a lot has been focused on me, which I think is only human nature. Scott feels a little left out at times when things are geared only to me and not us, or to him, as we are experiencing this together). With that being said, there still has been a lot of amazing support, for both of us/and for me. Regardless of what kind it is, it's been 1000000% appreciated and all unexpected. 

One day, I came home to this gem in the mail. A little package and sweet note from my sister-in-law. It's upside-down in the pic, but it's an angel wing. "Everyone should have an angel wing", to protect and watch over us, and to bring good luck. It's hand-crafted and is from her friend's gift shop in FL. 

Came across this and my heart just breaks for Scott whenever this happens. He has SUCH a big, caring heart, and a special spot for kids. My heart is so full seeing him with our friends' kids, or with nieces/nephews, but man does it also break at the same time. I want nothing more than to be able to give him a baby of our own. It still doesn't seem fair that we can't make babies together, but I have to keep hoping that this is his super power. His amazing heart will allow him to accept and love our baby, no matter its biological makeup. 

Amen. Pure truth. Nothing more. 
We fight hard for our marriage. We don't always see eye to eye. We argue. We have ups and downs. But at the end of the day, we are so in love with each other and want nothing else. That's commitment. <3

Knock me down, but I always get up. Fall down 7 times, get up 8. 

Whether that rainbow is in the form of a baby or a stronger, happier marriage (or both!), I know we'll be okay in the end. 

This was always a song I LOVED from the instant I first heard it (on the USA gymnastics team commercial for the summer olympics 2 years ago), and I always thought it would be THE perfect pregnancy song "I'm gonna make this place your home" (as in, my uterus... haha).  As much as that will still apply when the time comes, I'm now applying it to Scott & me. Sticking together and making our marriage our home. Staying together as we roll down this crazy, winding, sometimes scary road. 

Finally.... CRAZY, HAPPY, ZUMBA. I started it over 4 years ago, and even though I'm not as 100% into it like I was when I started, it's still my first love when it comes to exercise and fitness. It gave me confidence, rhythm, burns crazy calories, and makes me happy to dance like a fool. No more being held back from working out by fertility meds and taking forced breaks. That only got me extra chub in my problem areas (trust me, I have them). Time to get back to me. Stress relief. Fun. Movement. 

The End... for now. :) 

Saturday, September 6, 2014

To Be Continued...

Let's see if I can stick to my guns and write a short post for ONCE (don't go placing any bets)... The fact that I'm exhausted and will probably fall asleep any min could be a good thing to help me out here. 

I have gotten so bad at updating this, but always have good intentions of keeping it current and blogging about all of our adventures. Maybe some day... for now I'll keep dreaming. 

Ok, so the "To Be Continued" title refers to our fertility journey. We have decided to take a break. So for now, hold your horses, be patient, and we'll be back after these messages. 

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me 3 and 4 times, I'm pretty much just an idiot with her head in the clouds. 4 failed cycles. 4 times with super high hopes. I know I'm not an idiot and can see my family reading this, shaking their heads. No, I don't really mean it; but I'm allowed to feel it. And that's how I have felt about this whole thing. Shame on me for being a fool and believing in magic and miracles and happy endings. Shame, Shame, Shame. 

My last post (July) talked about how we started up again with the IUI process this summer, and that it was SUCH a hopeful cycle. I swore it would work, and then when it didn't, I was crushed. But we jumped right back and tried again. Only this time it was a much more intense protocol. We (my Dr, nurse, and I) thought that it didn't work because the Clomid thinned out my uterine lining too much. To take care of that and up my chances, I was given the following plan:

*5 days of pills...Instead of Clomid, I took Femara (or Letrozole) for 5 days. It does the same job as Clomid, but doesn't thin your lining. It also didn't have same effects on me. I wasn't super cranky or energetic, but I did get major awful/annoying headaches. And nothing made them go away except time. :(

*Injections for 4 days... This was new. In the past, I only had to do 1 injection of Ovidrel~ to bring on ovulation~ 36 hours prior to IUI procedure. This time I had to ADD 4 consecutive nights of injectables. I had to take a fertility drug called Gonal-F, which comes in pen form. I had to attach and change out the needles each night, and set the dial to the correct dose (75iu), then press it in, hold for 5 seconds, and release. I was used to a small sharps container and was used to shooting 1 needle in. This cycle I had to do 5 injections myself, so they gave me a giant sharps container. Welcome to the big leagues. These extra injections help grow and enhance the egg follicle(s) I guess. Not entirely sure, but they use this drug with IVF sometimes. 

Each night for shots (not the alcoholic kind), I would ask Scott to play some music to help pump me up. Sometimes he would choose a song for me, sometimes I would request one. But either way, he knew it had to be my kind of music. Something meaningful and/or make me want to jump around, and put me in an insta-good mood. I also have him record me doing injections, so I can play it back later and feel strong/accomplished. I made photo collages of each night too, so eventually I'll add those but they're on my phone and I'm currently on the mac. 

Our song choices this cycle:

Day 1 shots: "Forever"- Chris Brown (no, not a fan of him as a person anymore but I still love some of his music, especially this one. It was on the wedding episode of The Office, when Jim & Pam got married. I liked the song anyway, but have LOVED it since this moment. I even dance really silly to one particular part bc it reminds me of that episode. I miss that show.)

Day 2: "Waka Waka"- Shakira. This song makes me think of old school Zumba (from like 4+ years ago). It's one of my happy songs and always makes me want to dance, and reminds me of happy memories and happy people. 

Day 3: "Dirty Bit"~ Black Eyed Peas. Another old school Zumba song, tied to good memories and fun times. It always makes me want to dance and pumps me up. 

Day 4: "Life is a Highway"- the Rascal Flatts version. This is a great song anyway that we both like, it's in a Disney movie and it just rocks. But Scott chose it because the title reflects our journey. Life truly is a highway... in our sense maybe an extreme roller coaster. 

*Ovidrel injection~ the one I've done 3 other times, 2 of which I self-injected, and was the least concerned about. That is, until I realized there was way more liquid in this than what i was using the past 4 nights... and suddenly it scared the heck out of me! haha. 

The trigger shot song choice was "Somewhere Over the Rainbow"- the Iz Kamakawiwoʻole. I think I have a whole post about this song. I just love it, always have. Ever since (maybe before) our wedding, honeymoon in Hawaii, and whatnot. It's on our wedding video, was in our wedding slideshow, and I've just always loved this song. Plus, I was seeing more rainbows this cycle, and stupidly thought they were signs again... shame on me. 

So, went through with IUI #4 with 2 good follicles (again) and good lining... everything was in play. It even occurred to me that our sperm donor's ID # matched up with A LOT this cycle. The first number was the cycle we were on, the second was how many eggs I had, and the last 2 numbers were the date IUI was happening on. When I realized this, I thought it HAD to be a sign, and that it was going to work, it's been written there for us all along. Nope... back to the shame thing. Just a weird crazy coincidence and a really really REALLY cruel joke on me. 

Fast forward 2 weeks again (2 weeks that had me getting imaginary early pregnancy symptoms), and bam, hello Aunt Flo. Mother Nature's sign of saying "Screw you." The Baby Nazi saying "No baby for you". 

I was crushed. I was pissed off, sad, frustrated, angry, mad, depressed, deflated, confused, stressed out. Keep in mind, this was at the end of 2 weeks of summer school- and about 10-12 days before school started. I was so relaxed all of July, and yet felt I had wasted all of August for nothing. Still not pregnant. Back to square 1. This isn't fair. 

I quickly calculated the possible dates of the next IUI if we started up right away again. What date came up? The FIRST day of school.... Are you freaking kidding me? I was already sad enough, and then this wrench was thrown in. I wanted to keep going, I want to always be one step closer to our positive test and to meeting our baby. But the first day of school? How can I possibly miss the first day of school for a medical procedure? Fertility treatments are SOOO time sensitive and dependent on what your body is doing, that you can't predict anything. But since it was close enough to the first day, give or take, I couldn't take any changes. Taking September's cycle off. *&%$ :( Stinks. Big time. 

I teach Kindergarten. I can't possibly justify missing the first day. Even other grades would make it hard~ but MAYBE people would be more understanding. (I prob would have canceled in other grades too, who am I kidding.) I stress myself out with the opening of school on a good year, the thought of throwing in fertility meds would just make me turn into a hyena or wildebeest in no time. Putting my personal life on hold because of  my job. Because I care too much what others think and need to set a good tone in my classroom for the year. It was the right thing to do. I had no choice. 

Scott was 100% supportive and by the time I got home, we both had come up with the same idea separately. He was the first to bring it up, though, and he was happy I was on board... Let's take a few months off. Get readjusted to school, the holidays are coming, we don't want to have a negative cycle right before the holidays and throw me into depression. 

This past failed cycle really really set me off. I had moments where I didn't feel myself and was so sad I was scaring myself. I had moments where I would just cry, nonstop. I had moments where I didn't want to do anything, and nothing cheered me up. I wasn't myself and would probably start slipping into a mini depression if I wasn't able to pick myself up, bounce back, and come up with lessons and positive lights to take from this. 

Our takeaway? This infertility ride is messing with us. It's tugging at us and testing our strength. It's stolen my focus and identity for a long time. It's caused me to be extra selfish and forget about Scott. It's caused me to focus only on my emotions and feelings, and not on my husband's. It's created an ugly tension on our relationship.... But now we realize it. We realize what the focus of the last 7 months (intense 7 months of hormone manipulation and time being measured by 2-week increments and IUI cycle stages. IUI, fail, repeat. IUI, miscarriage, break. IUI, fail, repeat. IUI, fail.... STOP!!)..but really it's eaten up just about 3 years of our time. We are almost at the 3 year month since deciding "We are going to try for a baby. We are ready to try and get pregnant. We're ready to become parents". The ups and downs are exhausting, draining, intense, depressive, and downright stressful. We just simply need a break. We need time to focus on us and just have fun being a married couple. Not a married, infertile couple. It's too consuming. It's been just us, Scott & Stace, for 15.5 years~ we haven't lost anyone. Once we have kids and they grow up and move on, it'll still be just the two of us. All you need is Love. We have to refocus on that, and get back to the rest when we feel it's right. I miss us, and just us. Yea, we'd LOVE to get pregnant and be parents. But it is way way way harder than we ever thought, and way harder than anyone realizes who just isn't in this boat. We STILL have people telling us to just relax and keep trying. No. It doesn't work without any sperm. There are no sperm. It just cannot happen. Scott is being treated for testosterone now, but contrary to belief, that will not help the situation. It would only make worse if he had any, because it's artificial hormones, so it won't cause spontaneous production.  So, we won't "relax and keep trying". I don't even want to try for a while. I need a break. I need to be a wife and a teacher. I need to just be Stace. I need to be away from hormones and meds and shots (unless they're in a shot glass or made with Jell-O). 

So, there it is. We are taking another break, until further notice, but this time by choice. I need to regain my life and my identity. Have fun with my husband, workout at the gym, be on my own schedule.

To be continued...