Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Happy Birthday, Sassy Girl

I am currently recovering from Sassy Girl's Birthday Weekend Extravaganza. Not only did we host both sets of grandparents, but we survived a birthday party attended by 15 two and three year olds. Ebo used his engineering degree by helping rig a pinata to break by pulling a string. Who knew physics could be so useful?

In my last post, I was reminiscing about how difficult it was to bring Sassy Girl into this world. Though the memories don't affect me as much anymore, the pain of infertility, IVF, and Sassy Girl's traumatic birth will remain with me always. I don't take any day with her for granted. Happy birthday, little girl! I love you!

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Looking for "normal" in all the wrong places

Three years ago this week, I was in a hospital room trying to clear my mind by watching the USA network's "Monk" marathon. I was finishing my third week as an inpatient and I was almost finished with my 31st week of pregnancy. It was supposed to be the happiest time of my life, and yes, it was. But I was also scared shitless because there was a chance I could lose it all. My little peanut wasn't growing as she should and my blood pressure was climbing.

A few months before, I was interviewing Adela, a woman who had a 14 year old sister with a serious seizure disorder. Eva's seizures had caused significant brain damage and cognitive abilities were that of a 2-year-old. Adela, knowing that she would eventually be Eva's adult caregiver, worried a lot about the future. She said, "We don't know what's going to happen because nothing is normal. Nothing is normal about Eva's life. When you have normal life there are normal things that happen. You go to school. You go to college, get married, have babies. Eva can't have that, so we don't know what will happen." Within the context of my research, this statement describes what every family that has a disabled child feels, especially when services and opportunities are scarce. But Adela's words also me made look at the broader concept of what is "normal." As I was lying in that hospital room, not knowing when my baby girl was going to be born or if she would be okay, I began to realize how much we take "normal" for granted.

I used to think it was great to be abnormal. I was never one to want to be like everybody else. One of the things that attracted me to Ebo was that he was the same way - we liked doing our own thing. However, when the reality of our infertility hit us, we found ourselves for the first time wanting to be like everyone else.

Our infertility treatment was even abnormal, at least it seemed so at the time. To begin with, we knew exactly what our issue before we even stepped into a clinic. This was somewhat of a blessing because we wouldn't have to go through the tests to determine was was "wrong" with us. We knew already. However, we also knew there was no chance of having a "surprise." Also, because of the extent of our problem, IVF with ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection) was our only option for getting pregnant. Furthermore, Ebo would have to go through a procedure called MESA (Microepididymal Sperm Aspiration) where his sperm would have to be removed surgically. Not only could we not get pregnant by having sex, my husband couldn't even enjoy the free porn during the IVF procedure.

Knowing all of this, we originally decided against IVF. All of the extra procedures would be costly and there was no guarantee. We had started attending adoption information sessions and getting documents together for our homestudy when a friend called. She knew about our decision to adopt and had heard of a potential situation. Could it really be this easy? Well, no. A week later, after Ebo and I were ready to go for it, our friend told us that the birthmother decided to parent this child. I had known this wasn't a sure thing, but my heart sank anyway.

This may sound weird, but Ebo wanted make me feel better by taking me to a fertility clinic. We had been to one once before and after that visit we decided that adoption would be the better option (the doctor had been a total ass and didn't warm the speculum before the exam). I also laughed out loud when he was going over the costs of all the medications and procedures. We thought that a visit with this new doctor would renew our committment to adoption. However, this doc was different. First, he didn't try to "dummy down" the description of the IVF procedure (I really hate it when doctors do this - I took biology, damn it! I know what an ovary is!) When he got to the subject of cost, Ebo and I shot a look at each other. Here it comes - expenses we can't afford and our insurance won't cover. I laughed out loud again. Then doc said, "I know this is expensive, but I think you would qualify for a study that's going on...."

Study? Meaning free IVF? WTF? Could it be that easy? If we agreed, we were going to be part of a study that compared two IVF drug protocols. The tests, drugs and procedure would be free. All we would have to pay for was the MESA and ICSI. Could we really go through with this? What about our decision to adopt? Ebo and I discussed this for hours. In the end, we came to the conclusion that if we did go through with IVF, we were not rejecting adoption. We were just putting it on hold to take advantage of this opportunity.

And to answer the above question? No. It's not that easy. I realize now that again, our story is not normal. IVF is not free, and it doesn't usually work the first time. Moreover, even under the best of circumstances, going through IVF is hard emotionally and physically. It's not just about giving yourself shots, it's the anxiety about doing it right. I won't go into detail about the process itself - many other more experienced bloggers have done a fine job of this. What I will say is that on Ash Wednesday 2004 we received the news - we were pregnant!

Then, that summer, three months before the due date of our daughter, we were on our way to a level II ultrasound. My OBGyn felt that the baby was on the small side so she sent us to a perinatologist. I was expecting to do the sonogram, go home and mop the floor. Instead, the peri found that not only was my baby not growing, but my blood pressure was a lot higher than my normal. I wasn't going to mop the floor. I was going to be in the hospital and they didn't know when I was going home.

Three weeks, buckets of tears, and too many bad hospital meals later, my daughter was born at 32 weeks. I was going to go home a week later - but my 2 pound little girl would have to stay there. Up until that point, I had accepted all of the abnormalities that came with trying to have our baby. However, this by far was the worst. Looking at my baby through a plastic isolette and feeding her through a tube. Having to walk past the regular newborn nursery on my way to the NICU and watching the other "normal" mothers hold their "normal" sized babies. Leaving the hospital without my daughter in my arms. Not knowing when she would be able to come home. I wanted to be normal - if not for myself, but for my little Sassy Girl.

We are about to celebrate Sassy Girl's third birthday. In most respects, we have achieved a piece of "normal." But the pain and anxiety of her birth still linger. Despite everything, though, there is no doubt that Ebo and I are extremely lucky. Yes, we did have to go though IVF. Yes, our daughter was a preemie. We are not normal by any means, and I do get angry about this when I see people taking their "normalcy" for granted. But Sassy Girl is with us and we are thankful for that every single day.