It’s Been a While

It’s been a while…

My last post was about two months ago, right after we found out our embryo transfer was canceled due to my elevated prolactin level. So what did we do? Well, I turned 30, and we went to the beach! We needed that getaway. It was like hitting the reset button for us. My mom was worried that I was running away from emotions. “Breanne, don’t think it won’t still be here when you get back,” she warned. “It” I guess was infertility, disappointment, an impending breakdown, something. And on the way to the beach after we hit a deer on the interstate and drove over a nail (2 different instances), I have to admit that I was thinking, “Ugh she was right! This trip isn’t going to help anything,” because let’s face it, moms are right 99.9% of the time. But this time, she was wrong (sorry, Mama). That trip was just what we needed!

We got back home on Mother’s Day, which was surprisingly easier than last year. Scratch that – it was less hard. Last year on Mother’s Day I ended up deleting the Facebook app from my phone and bummed around my parents’ house all day. I couldn’t even bring myself to go to church and sit in the congregation as all the mothers stood up proudly so their kids could present them with Mother’s Day happies they made in Sunday School. We had just started coming to terms with our infertility and were on the brink of the first round of IVF. That day was pretty dark. And you’d think that a year later, still with no baby, would have been harder, but like I said, it was surprisingly “less hard.” This year, we had more hope. We had a great retrieval. I was pregnant for a few short weeks this past winter. We have good looking embryos in the freezer. And we had a suntan. There was a lot to be thankful for, and if there is one thing this process has brought me, it’s a change in perspective.

The week after Mother’s Day, Aunt Flo arrived, which triggered another prolactin test. Since the canceled transfer, I had been taking Cabergoline twice a week so that my pituitary gland would chill out and stop secreting an unnecessary-at-the-moment breast milk hormone. We let out a HUGE sigh of relief when the results came back at 4, 8, gosh I can’t even remember exactly what it was….but it was low enough that we got the go-ahead for Transfer #3 (again)!

More good news came our way when Nurse Memphis instructed me to stay on the birth control (for down regulation) for only 9 days. 9 days! In my past transfer plans, I was on birth control for 3 or so weeks, so we had already planned that the transfer would probably be in July. But nope, our tentative transfer date is JUNE 19!!!!

Last week, I went to my OB for my baseline ultrasound with my favorite ultrasound tech. Everything looked good, so I’m now taking Estrace (estradiol) and am still on schedule for that June 19th transfer. Next up is an appointment Wednesday to make sure my lining is thick and my estradiol is where it should be. After those results get faxed to Memphis, I’ll get the call with the official transfer date and instructions on progesterone injections. Whoa, that’s next week! As I type it I get a little flutter in my chest that takes my breath away for second. And that’s significant because it hasn’t completely hit me that this transfer is around the corner; it’s happening slowly.

After the canceled transfer, I was miraculously able to push infertility to the back of my mind. Ok, maybe not all the way back there, but far enough that it wasn’t a subject that consumed my life. For a month, there was no shot regimen. No schedule taped to the fridge. No doctor’s appoints. No ultrasounds. No surgeries, thank God. There was just one pill every Sunday and Wednesday. I was enjoying having a piece of my life back that didn’t involve me worrying about growing follicles, a thickening lining, or implanting embryos. And I wasn’t even nervous about my high prolactin. I had been on the medicine before and responded well. We figured that would be the case again. Even once I got my schedule for the transfer mid-May – birth control for 9 days, baseline on 5/31, lining on 6/14, transfer 6/19 – it still didn’t feel…real? I’m not so sure that’s the right word. It’s always real. But I just haven’t readied myself to welcome back all the feelings that come with an upcoming transfer, and I don’t want to go back to the place I was two months ago. This is me totally trying to take control of my emotional well-being. Before the canceled transfer, I was sick with worry. The elevated prolactin proved my body wasn’t ready. The heartburn waking me up in the middle of the night to vomit proved my mind wasn’t ready either. But lately, I’ve felt like a completely different person. That’s why I haven’t blogged. Every time I tried, I thought of something else I should be doing instead, for fear that I would drudge up the worry and stress and probably get some heartburn out of it too. Now, as I write this with the tentative transfer a little over a week away, I still can’t see far enough ahead to picture June 19th. I’m just not there.

And if I dig a little deeper, maybe the reason for the mental block is that there is still one more obstacle to get through. One more checkpoint. And that’s my appointment Wednesday. In the past, these appointments were just something we had to get through to get to the transfer. Now that we’ve had a transfer ripped away from us so easily, these appointments are SOMETHING WE HAVE TO GET THROUGH to get to the transfer. See the difference? Maybe not. It barely makes sense to me…if at all. So as June 19th approaches, just pray that I stay cool and collected once it finally hits me. And when it does, I’m sure it will hit like a needle in the butt cheek…literally.

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It’s Over

“It’s over. It’s over.”

That’s all Breanne could really say the day everything hit her and she finally broke.  She had been strong throughout the whole ordeal, and up until that point had somehow held it together.  With every doctor’s appointment, every hCG test that wasn’t rising properly, every ultrasound that showed that the pregnancy wasn’t progressing as it should, and even the miscarriage, she managed to stay positive and focused, able to see the silver lining in this dark cloud of infertility.  Still, I knew at some point it would hit her.  It needed to hit her.  Otherwise, how could we move on?

The miscarriage happened on Christmas morning.  Yes, you read that correctly – Christmas morning.  Certainly not the holiday we had in mind.  We were opening presents at Breanne’s parents’ house like we do every Christmas morning, when all of a sudden she started cramping.  Being the trooper that she is, she was able to make it through breakfast and opening presents before retiring to her old room to sleep off the cramps.  So while Breanne was incapacitated, I headed outside to fry the Christmas turkey on our 80-degree Mississippi Christmas morning.  About an hour later, I got a text from Breanne.  She was in the bathroom…miscarrying.  My heart sank.  Not because we didn’t expect this – we did and had prepared ourselves – but the timing of it seemed like a cruel joke.

She said the rest of the day was a blur for her.  If you remember from my last post, Breanne LOVES Christmas.  We have a tradition of eating Christmas dinner with the Ivy crew (her mom’s family) and playing games afterwards, so Breanne was determined not to miss out on the festivities.  So I passed her her straightener and make-up bag through the bathroom door so she could slowly get ready, she “hopped on the saddle” (a term I wish I had never learned), and we headed over to the Ivy’s with a bag of feminine products and pain relievers in hand.  Breanne wasn’t quite herself while we were over there – she even relinquished her duties as Dirty Santa coordinator to her sister.  At that point, I knew she didn’t feel good!  Despite the difficult timing of our loss, we wound up having a great night surrounded by family, which is exactly what we needed.  It turns out that having the miscarriage occur on Christmas Day was a blessing in disguise.

We had an appointment with Breanne’s OB/GYN the Tuesday after Christmas.  The ultrasound confirmed that the pregnancy was officially over.  There was no longer a sac.  Ironically, we looked at each other with relief.  After what we went through on Christmas morning, we had hoped the worst of it was over.  Her hCG was still measuring at 3,100, so we were instructed to keep checking it every week to confirm that it was continuing to decrease.  A plateau or rise meant a D&C (surgery).

The next day was Breanne’s first full day back at work since the holidays.  I had taken the entire week off, so I walked her to her car and climbed right back in bed.  A few minutes later, Breanne was back home.  I knew something was up.  I greeted her with a “Well hey there!”  She just stood in the doorway to our bedroom, shook her head, and started crying. And even though my wife always gets bummed every year when Christmas is over, I knew that wasn’t what the tears were for.  She had finally broken.  And in a way, I was relieved.  She’s such a fighter that she often blocks out her emotions to keep her mind focused on the process and our goal of being parents, but sometimes it’s good for her to stop fighting and just feel. And when the tears slowed down long enough for her to speak, she whispered, “It’s over. It’s over.”

She was right, the pregnancy was over.  This chance was over.  But here we are almost 5 weeks later, and even though the pregnancy is over, it feels like the miscarriage isn’t.  We’re still waiting for her hCG levels to drop below 5 and for her cramping and bleeding to stop.  A week after Christmas, her hCG had only dropped 300 points, from 3,100 to 2,800.  We felt so far from the end.  We wanted the bandage ripped off, not slowly pulled back.  A week later, her level had dropped all the way to 850.  We high fived each other when the lab called us with the “good” news.  When people say infertility is like being on a roller coaster, boy are they right!  A few weeks ago, we were praying with everything we had that her levels would keep rising.  Now we are celebrating every drop. She’s now at 59, which means this should all be over in a couple weeks.

We appreciate the outpouring of love we received since we posted that the pregnancy was likely not viable.  I can’t say enough how everyone’s thoughts and prayers are felt and have helped us keep going. We’ll always hold a special place in our hearts for this embryo and the hope it brought us – our first pregnancy!   Now we’re ready to use that hope to push forward to the next step – Transfer #3, coming Spring 2017.

Muddle Through Somehow

A thousand thoughts are running through my head about what to say and how to say it, so I’ll just pick up where I left off.  First, a quick recap – We had a single embryo transfer on November 15th.  Our 10-day post transfer test showed a positive but with a low hCG number of 17.  My hCG continued to rise at a slow rate and finally surpassed 100 a week later.  At that point, we were told to wait another couple weeks for an ultrasound on December 14th.  We’ll begin here.

The ride to Memphis didn’t consist of any hCG talk.  We knew all we could know at that point, so it seemed silly and exhausting to continue rehashing all the details of my low, slow-rising hCG and what it could mean for this pregnancy. As soon as we arrived at the clinic Wednesday morning, they took me back for an ultrasound.  This is what we saw….

6-5-weeks

A tiny gestational sac with an even tinier yolk sac – a speck.  Brennen said, “Wow that’s it!” We had never seen anything on a scan of my uterus except a “fluffy” lining, so this was a special moment for us, despite not seeing a fetal pole.  Then we met with the doctor who laid it all out for us.  Here’s what we knew after our discussion:

  1. The embryo did not implant in my tubes. It implanted in the uterus right where it was supposed to, and it implanted well.  This was great news for us – our first implantation!
  2. Based on the timing of my transfer, I should have been at 6 ½ weeks.  However, based on the measurements of the sac, it looked like I was closer to 5 ½ weeks.  In “normal” conception, some doctors chalk this up to ovulating later than you think you did.  However with IVF, conception and implantation is more controlled.  Implantation can take longer to occur after the transfer, but a week late is pretty uncommon.
  3. Being that I was measuring at 5 ½ weeks, it could explain why we didn’t see a fetal pole; therefore, another ultrasound was scheduled a week later.
  4. My lagging measurements coupled with the low, slow-rising hCG indicated that the pregnancy may not be viable, as it was not advancing at it should. The doctor gave us a 20% chance.

That’s a lot of information packed into 4 bullet points! We were thrilled to hear that the embryo had implanted where it was supposed to.  Until that point, we had never made it as far as implantation.  So although this news was coupled with our poor 20% chance, we were thankful to have made it that far.

For the next few days, I continued my medications (Estradiol and Progesterone) and hung on to that 20% chance.  Still, I didn’t feel connected to the pregnancy.  Partly because I was guarding myself against that other 80%.  Plus, I hadn’t developed any symptoms other than cramps, which were attributed to an expanding uterus.  On top of that, it just felt odd saying the word “pregnant.”  To me, this was a pregnancy, but I didn’t feel pregnant.  I talked to a few of my friends who are mothers, and they all said it takes some big moment to feel connected sometimes – like hearing the heartbeat or feeling movement.  So I guess I just needed that moment, and maybe, I thought, it would be December 20th when I heard a heartbeat, or hoped to.

The week between my two ultrasounds flew by thanks to a trip to New Orleans for the Southern Miss bowl game and, of course, Christmas preparations.  Monday night after work, I was wrapping the last few presents when suddenly I began cramping.  It felt like menstrual cramps, but I can’t say it was much worse than the cramps I’d been having over the past couple weeks.  I took a break from wrapping to sit on the couch and watch Mickey’s Christmas Carol.  When Brennen walked through the door at 7:30 with our Mexican takeout, I stood up to greet him (and get my food).  That’s when I felt it, and my heart sank.  I looked at Brennen and said, “I’m bleeding.” “Bad?” he asked.  “Like a period.” The next words out of his mouth were, “Oh my God.”  I can’t begin to explain or mimic the tone in his voice, but I can replay it in my head.  With those three words, I could hear him letting go of our 20% chance.

(This next paragraph gets a little graphic so skip ahead if you’re not up for it.)

I rushed to the bathroom and experienced what I had never experienced with any period in my 16 years of “womanhood.”  After a minute or so, we decided to call the nurse.  I told Brennen to go to the other side of the house to call her.  I didn’t want to hear him tell her what was happening. Living it was one thing, hearing it was another.  While he was on the phone, I sat there alone in our guest bathroom, bleeding.  I looked around – stared at our hand-wash-only clothes hung across the shower curtain rod, at the succulent that I had somehow managed to kill, at my stained pajama pants gathered at my knees, then finally into the toilet.  There was that moment – the moment I felt pregnant.  Only….I didn’t feel pregnant until I knew I wouldn’t be much longer.

Brennen returned, not grossed out by any part of the female reproductive cycle anymore, with instructions on how to monitor the bleeding.  He also brought with him two Tylenol for the cramping and a Benadryl to take before bed.  After an hour or so, the bleeding had slacked off significantly.  “What do I do now?” I asked.  I honestly didn’t know what the proper protocol was.  I needed to eat.  I needed to take a bath.  But I almost felt guilty going on with my normal routine.  “First, you’re eating,” Brennen said.  So I ate.  Then, I took the rest of the night one step at a time, just like we tackle this whole process.  I took a bath, called my mom, took what was perhaps the most difficult progesterone shot ever, downed my Benedryl, set the alarm for 8:30 when my OB’s clinic opened, said my prayers, and drifted into a medicated sleep.

The next morning, I called the clinic, and the nurse told me to come in right away. By 9:30 we were in the waiting room. The ultrasound showed a smaller gestational sac, an abnormal yolk sac, no fetal pole, and a bleed.  My OB’s prediction – this was not a viable pregnancy.  But she did say that although there was little to no hope in this pregnancy, it still brought hope with it.  My thoughts exactly, doc.

My next appointment is Tuesday after Christmas.  My OB expects the process to have completed itself by then. If not, a D&C may be in order.  My reproductive endocrinologist (fertility doctor) in Memphis called this morning and instructed me to stop all my medications.  So now we’re just waiting….waiting to miscarry.

We appreciate everyone’s thoughts and prayers during our “space between,” and we ask that you continue to keep us in your prayers over the holidays.  This will most likely be our last post until the new year when we’ll tackle the why’s and plan for the next transfer.  But for now, we’ll enjoy the time we have together with our friends and families over the holidays. It seems like life hasn’t been fair to us when it comes to fertility, but we’ve been more than blessed in so many other ways.  And ‘tis the season to remember that!

We hope you all have a very Merry Christmas and a blessed New Year.  It’s going to be a good one! I can feel it!

Someday soon, we all will be together,

If the fates allow.

Until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow

So have yourself a merry little Christmas now.

Judy Garland, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”

hancock-christmas

Merry Christmas! (Photo Credit: My best friend Lauren!)

The Space Between

Brennen: “You have one whale of a blog post to write.”

Me: “No kidding.”


So I started writing, and I wrote a lot.  There was so much to say and so many updates to give.  As Brennen explained in his blog post, our transfer on November 15th went as smoothly as it could have.  We had a good looking embryo and all my hormone levels were in check.  All that was left to do was wait out the next few days until my first hCG blood test.

Now, for the post-transfer breakdown.

Days 1-5

For the first few days after the transfer, I hung out in a hotel room with my mom in Memphis.  It was miserable.  Not because of my mother, no, but because it was a hotel room. And I was having some pretty intense post-transfer symptoms.  I knew from the day after the transfer that this one was different than Round 1.  I ran a low-grade fever off and on from Wednesday to Saturday and experienced much more cramping than I did after our first transfer.  My hips were also not adjusting well to the progesterone injections either.  They were so sore which is not ideal when you’re basically sitting in a bed all day.  Oddly enough, when we switched to some larger needles from our first transfer, the hip pain got much better.  I never imagined that I would be thrilled to see a larger needle!  After Memphis, we spent the weekend at my parents’ house for some much needed distraction.  And just like that, half of our 10-day wait was over, and by Sunday, I was feeling a little more like myself.

Day 6

One of the first things they tell you is to not take an at-home pregnancy test.  And I promised myself that this time around, I would wait on the blood test.  But Monday morning, before I knew it, I found myself peeing on a stick at 6am.  Brennen claimed he didn’t see anything so he went back to bed, and I hopped in the shower.  When I got out, I saw an ever-so-faint line.  My heart skipped a beat.  I collected myself, hid the test in my make-up bag, and went about the rest of my day.  Well, I tried to at least.  I could not wait to get back home and take another peek at that test.  I blew through the door at 5:00, unzipped the bag, pulled out the test, and said, “Oh, shit!” Not the words I expected to come out of my mouth, but it was a good “Oh shit!”  I was looking at a dark pink line, almost as dark as the control line.  Now, I know there is such a thing as an evaporation line and not to trust a test past a certain amount of time yeah, yeah, yeah.  But I have used my fair share of ovulation test strips and pregnancy tests to know that a line like that doesn’t appear for nothing.  Without a doubt, there was some hCG in my system at 6 days post transfer.  I tested again.  Another pink line – not as dark, but evening urine is much less concentrated than morning urine.  I called Brennen and asked him to meet me at a local mall for their Christmas open house.  I was happy and hopeful and just wanted to spend some time with my husband.  After all, there was a possibility that it would only be just Brennen and me for a few more months.  Once we met up, I showed him the lighter test, the one from that evening.  He said, “Holy crap!” – the PG version of my reaction.  We promised ourselves not to get overly excited and to proceed with cautious optimism. We still had a few days to go until the blood test. We planned to celebrate and distract ourselves by shopping (my idea), but work and the evening’s excitement had exhausted me.  Plus, the cramping was getting to me so much that it hurt to button my pants.  So rather than risk anything by walking around the mall with my pants undone, we went back home.  I rested – husband’s orders.

Then, that night around 9:30 I developed a rash all over my body.  Actually, it’s not fair to call it a rash because it wasn’t raised or bumpy.  It itched but mainly because it made my skin warm.  It was more like my entire body was blushing in splotches.  Lucky for me, Benadryl was safe to take.  It eased the itching AND helped me sleep.

Day 7

I didn’t take a test that morning. Believe it or not! But it’s because I thought I didn’t have any.  So, what did I do after work? I bought some.  I tested when I got home and saw a faint pink line.  I was still feeling pretty good.  This time, I didn’t tell Brennen.  His reaction was so precious in the parking lot of the mall the night before that I wanted to capture it the next time I showed him a pink line.

Day 8

After work, Brennen and I met at my best friend’s house for her to take our Christmas card pictures.  And I figured that while we were there, I would use an extra test she had at her house. Convenient, right?  I also wanted her to capture Brennen’s reaction which she did…beautifully.  There was without a doubt a pink line.  The problem was…it was lighter than the lines I had been seeing.  Brennen chalked it up to a different type of test, a cheaper one; and after Christmas card pictures we grabbed a bite at one of our favorite restaurants to celebrate.  When I told the waiter I would just be having water, I saw Brennen grin.  He was so excited.  But I wasn’t quite there.  I was nervous about the lighter pink line.  He kept telling me to “Be happy,” but when I explained how overwhelmed I was and how I needed to see a blood test before I would let myself get too excited, he understood.  He calls me the pessimist of the relationship.  I’d say I’m more of a realist.  Still, we talked about baby names, grandparent names, and the whole timeline of the pregnancy over dinner.  Like Brennen said, “We’ve talked about this stuff before, but this time it’s real.  How crazy is that!”

Day 9

Happy Thanksgiving!  I took another test that morning.  Still a line! It was light, but it was there!  We coasted through Thanksgiving Day in default mode, unable to really think of anything other than the blood test I would take that night.  Even the turkey wasn’t enough to distract us!  That evening, I had my blood drawn for my first hCG test.  The 20-minute wait for the results was the longest 20 minutes of my life.  We filled the time with talks of Black Friday sales and the food we ate that day.  And finally, a number – 17.87.  It was low, but it was above a 5 which was good!  We FaceTimed Brennen’s parents who squealed with excitement then drove on to my parents’ house.  The rest of the evening was spent sharing the news of our positive with my family members still in town for Thanksgiving.  We weren’t expecting to share so quickly since the number was low and another test was due in 48 hours to verify an increase, but when it’s Thanksgiving and you’re a part of my family, secrets don’t stay secrets for long.  We were excited.  Our families were excited.  And even though there was still doubt in my mind because of the low number and light pink lines, we had never been this far before and shared the news anyway.  Still, the words “I’m pregnant” didn’t quite roll off my tongue.  It didn’t seem real.  I opted for the safer, “We got a positive!”

I held my belly as I went to sleep that night and prayed so hard that our growing embryo would become our baby.

Day 10

I tested again Friday morning before I called the clinic to report my hCG level from the night before. The line was still a light pink, which was worrisome.  The on-call nurse didn’t seem concerned that the number was low.  The most important thing was how it increased over the next few days.  She instructed me to do another hCG test Saturday night, 48 hours from the first.  The rest of the day was a blur, but I’m sure there was some football and leftovers in there somewhere.

Day 11

As if it were a full time job for me now, I peed on a stick that morning.  The line was barely there.  At that point, our moods shifted, and we had this nagging feeling that something wasn’t right.  With nothing else to do except sleep, I crawled back in bed, apologized to God for the things I was about to say, and vented to Him about the unfairness of this all, questioning “Why us?”

By that evening before my blood test, we had accepted that the level had either decreased or showed little change.  Results came back – 19.54.  At that point, we went ahead and let our families know that the pregnancy didn’t seem promising and that the number had not doubled or even come close to doubling over the 48 period as it should have.  We were preparing them, and more so ourselves, for the worst.

Day 12

I didn’t even bother with a urine test.  In fact, the one the morning before would be my last for a while. I  reported my number to the nurse who didn’t seem optimistic but asked me to continue my medications and test again in 48 hours – Monday.  That day I tried to do my best Googling to learn about low, slow-rising hCG levels.  Unfortunately “low” and “slow rising” are pretty vague search terms.  Some message boards had women worried about their 58 hCG.  I read where women were concerned because their hCG hadn’t doubled but had gone from 180 to 300 in 48 hours.  Looking at my report that read 19.54, I thought, “Cry me a river.”  Brennen did his fair share of Googling too, and on the drive home from my parents’ house we found ourselves dwelling on the uncertainties of this transfer and any transfers to come.

Day 13

In a torrential thunderstorm, we made our way to the hospital Monday night for the third blood test.  At this point, we were going through the motions.  We didn’t have much hope for the embryo that was inside of me and figured it was only hanging on because my hormones were being controlled with pills and injections.  To our surprise, we saw the biggest increase we had seen in my hCG level so far – 28.38, about a 40% increase from Saturday.  Still, a 28 at this point was not great, but there was still a shred of hope that we could hang on to. We drove back home in a steady mist of rain, and suddenly, I didn’t want to talk about it anymore. I became angry. I didn’t want to keep spinning our wheels and exhausting ourselves on assumptions.  We didn’t know why my hCG wasn’t rising like it should.  We didn’t know what the doctor would say or do next.  We didn’t know when the next transfer would be or if there would even need to be one.  We just didn’t know.  Then, I remembered something I learned after Round 1.  You have to let go of the things you can’t control.  There was nothing we could control at that point other than progesterone injections and Estrace pills.  Everything else needed to be let go.  So before we crossed the Madison County line, we agreed to do just that.

Day 14

I reported the 28 hCG to the clinic this morning.  The nurse agreed that the level wasn’t rising as it should and wasn’t as high as it should be.  We expected that our doctor would tell us to stop all medications, but we guessed wrong.  My doctor called yesterday evening and told me he wasn’t ready to throw in the towel as long as the hCG was still rising.  He recommended another hCG test the next day and hoped that the 28 would evolve into a 50, or there about.  We chatted for about 30 minutes about my symptoms since the transfer – the fever, the rash, the cramping – and discussed what to do next.  If anything, continuing to measure my hCG may give us some insight into what’s going on and how it could affect the protocol of future transfers.

Day 15

My hCG doubled. Finally! 56! Still low for this stage, but it doubled! What the heck?! That’s really all we can say.  We don’t know what’s going on.  Our emotions are in total limbo.  We’re thrilled with the increase but understand that the number is still low, so we’re guarding ourselves.  I don’t mean for it to sound so crass, but I can’t let myself get too attached just yet.  It’s a defense mechanism…because all of this can be so hard to deal with.

We never expected to be here.  We thought we would have a positive or a negative at this point, not the in-between.  Sunday night as we were lying in bed, I told Brennen, “I never even considered being at this point – the space between.”  Naturally, he responded with the chorus from Dave Matthews’ The Space Between, and in no time we were both singing the song in our best Dave impressions.  We didn’t know all the lyrics, and we don’t even know what the song means, but we found comfort in the line “The hope that keeps us safe from pain.”  That’s what this embryo has given us.  We had never seen a positive pregnancy test in all our years of trying until this embryo.  We weren’t even sure implantation was possible until this embryo.  And a few months ago, we didn’t even think we could make a high-grade embryo, and this little guy is a 4AB.  Still, we don’t know what is ahead.  But this little embryo, even in its short existence so far, has already given us more hope than we’ve ever had – the hope that keeps us safe from pain.

 

 

Transfer #2 – A Second Chance

Last time Breanne posted an update, she was shouting from the rooftops about her thick uterine lining (a phrase I never thought I would type).  Now, she’s hunkered down in a hotel room in Memphis on bedrest, so I’m handling this update on our transfer.

Monday evening after work, acupuncture, and a progesterone injection, Breanne and I hit the road to Memphis.  She had a suitcase packed with nothing but pajamas, a box of gluten-free cupcakes courtesy of my parents (Thanks, Mom and Dad), and plenty of Christmas music on her iPhone to pass the time. For those of you that know Breanne, you know that she loves Christmas.  And I don’t mean the normal kind of love.  I mean the already-has-all-of-her-Christmas-shopping-done-in-mid-November kind of love.  So with “Let it Snow” playing in the background and the air conditioner on full blast, we made our way up I-55.  Like a pitcher on a hot streak, we didn’t want to change up our pre-game routine, so we ate a late dinner at Memphis Barbecue Company on our way.  We’ve stopped there every time we’ve come up to Memphis for IVF.  If this round works, I bet it was the BBQ.

The morning of the transfer before we left the hotel is a bit of a blur, and I didn’t realize it was a blur until I started writing this post.  It’s almost like we were on auto-pilot.  I think we both had so many emotions running through us that morning – anticipation, excitement, hope, fear – and they all somehow cancelled each other out, leaving us numb and just going through our pre-transfer checklist.

We arrived at the clinic at 10:00 so that Breanne could have her blood drawn for a progesterone check; then, we spent the next thirty minutes in the waiting room where Breanne chugged water.  Evidently, a full bladder helps the doctor view the uterus on the ultrasound monitor so he can guide the catheter.  So there Breanne was, playing a chess match with her bladder all morning, trying to decide when to take her last pee before the procedure.  Checkmate: Bladder.

The transfer is a much less invasive procedure than the retrieval.  For the retrieval, Breanne was put under anesthesia; for the transfer, she only got a Valium.  The transfer basically involves the doctor guiding a catheter into her uterus and then injecting a solution holding the embryo right up next to the uterine lining.  That way, when the embryo hatches from its shell, it’s close enough to the lining that it can implant and begin to grow into a baby.  Because the procedure is less invasive, I was allowed to be in the room with Bre.  I just had to throw on a lunch lady hairnet and some massively oversized scrubs.  But when you’re 5’7, just about everything is oversized.

When the doctor finally came in for the procedure, he gave us a picture of the embryo we had been dying to see. Suddenly, we weren’t numb to our emotions anymore.  We were overwhelmed with hope.  Right away we could tell that this little guy was a higher quality embryo than the one we transferred in our first round.  It was more advanced and, without getting too scientific, had better cell differentiation.  The embryologist gave it a grade of 4AB.  The “4” indicates how far along the embryo is in its development.  At stage 4, it’s considered an “expanded blastocyst,” which is exactly where you want it to be for transfer.  The first letter in the grade represents the quality of the “inner-cell mass,” the group of cells that will eventually form the fetus.  This part of our embryo got an A!  It takes after its dad.  The second letter in the grade is the quality of the outer cells that will develop into the placenta.  This was a B.  Not perfect, but still pretty darn good!  For reference, the one embryo we had and transferred after our first round was a 2BC, so we knew we were already ahead of our first round.

The doctor left us alone for a few minutes while they prepped the procedure room, and we stared at our embryo.  It’s hard not to get emotional looking at the little clump of cells that could grow into our precious little boy or girl that we have fought so hard for. And I’ll be honest, I teared up.  Not many people get to see their children at this stage.  Going through this infertility struggle has been unbelievably difficult for both of us.  I bottle a lot up inside trying to be strong for Breanne, and my emotions wind up coming out when I least expect it.  I actually broke down in our Customer Service Manager’s office a few weeks ago (sorry Bennie!).  But getting to see this little 5-day old embryo before it hopefully grows into our beautiful baby made us feel so lucky…and me so emotional.

Next, they walked us into the procedure room and strapped Breezer in.  The nurse looked through our chart to once again verify who we were (a lot of verification goes on during the transfer process which is very much appreciated).  She laughed at how our names were so close, and Breanne, in her Valium-induced state of relaxation said, “Oh, it gets better!” and proceeded to explain how her maiden name is also Hancock.  The nurse jokingly asked if we were sure we weren’t related, so to break the tension I said, “Well, if this baby comes out with a third arm, we’ll have our answer.” Hard to tell if that joke landed or not.

The procedure went about as smoothly as it possibly could have.  Our doctor was incredible – he walked us through every step of the process so we could follow along on the ultrasound monitor.  And being able to both be in the room meant so much to us.  Breanne has had to fight so much of this battle on her own.  She’s the one getting poked and prodded almost every day.  She’s the one who has endured multiple surgeries in order to give us a fighting chance at a child together.  But in that moment, getting to hold her hand through this precious piece of the process, I’m not sure I’ve ever felt so connected to one person in my entire life.  As the doctor transferred the embryo, we could see a little glow appear on the screen.  The embryo is microscopic, but the solution it was in could easily be seen on the monitor.  And when we saw that glow, we both teared up (again).

After laying flat for 30 minutes following the transfer, Breanne was finally allowed to empty her bladder (hallelujah!)  She told the nurse it was the greatest pee of her life. The doctor gave us our post-transfer instructions, which involved a lot of bed rest for Breanne.  Once doc was finished with us, I went to go get the car to pick Breanne up.  About halfway to the car, I heard a woman’s voice calling for my help.  Once I walked over to her, I saw her and her husband trying to get a stroller to fold up so they could load it in their car – I’m guessing it was their grandchild’s stroller.  The woman said, “You look young – I bet you have kids.  How do you get one of these strollers to fold up?”  Not wanting to share our whole infertility story with a stranger in the parking lot, I awkwardly laughed and tried to help.  When I couldn’t figure it out, she said, “Well I thought you’d be more helpful – you look like you have a couple kids, don’t you?”  Guess I need to work on my dad bod…  After I swung by the hospital entrance to pick Bre up, we had to stop to let two very pregnant women walk across the street.  It was as if the universe was taunting us, but we laughed it off.  No negative vibes for our little embryo on board!

In order to make sure she followed the doctor’s instructions (and to allow me to get back to work), Breanne’s mom met us up in Memphis and is currently staying there with Breanne until tomorrow morning, then they are heading home.  Thanks, Connie!  If anyone can keep her in line, it’s you.

I’m not gonna lie – it’s been really hard being away from Bre over the last few days.  Knowing (and praying) that our embryo could be implanting as I write this is crazy to think about. Yet being 200 miles away from each other sucks. I’m just ready for tomorrow evening when we can start spending the rest of this 10-day wait together.

Thanks so much to the dozens of you who have messaged us, encouraged us, and prayed for us over the past few days.  If that little embryo can sense the love y’all have sent our way, he/she will definitely want to stick around!

 

We Set a Date and Took a Shot

I HAVE A THICK UTERINE LINING, and I want to shout it from the roof tops!  My monitoring appointment yesterday confirmed a lining of approximately 9mm, which means my body, more specifically my uterus, is ready to take on an embryo.  And with that news, we were able to set a date for our frozen embryo transfer.  Drum roll please…Tuesday, November 15th!

But first, progesterone.

For the past two weeks, I have been on an estrogen regimen – 6mg of Estrace daily – to keep me from ovulating and to support the growth of my lining.  Good job, Estrace.  I forgive you for the mood swings and heart burn.  I’ll continue to take Estrace through the transfer, but to ensure that my lining doesn’t get too thick I have to add my little friend PIO (progesterone in oil) to the mix.  PIO is an intramuscular injection, which means big needle in the hip.  And our first injection was tonight. In fact, as I write this, I’m sitting in the car with my right cheek pressed firmly against my heated seat on our way to a steak dinner.

This is the first time in this entire process, including Round 1, that I was shaking from nervousness.  I knew too well what was ahead.  When Brennen walked through the door, I tried to mask my nerves and bravely said, “Ok, I’m ready. Progesterone, now.” It didn’t help when he started mumbling, “Oh my gosh we’re really doing this.”  Then, I hear the voice of a stranger in my house.  A lady on YouTube was giving Brennen instructions on how to give a PIO injection.  Her voice…not so comforting at the time.

As Brennen reached for the Sharpie to temporarily tattoo my backside with injection targets, he said “Now, where exactly do I inject?” Brennen called my uncle (a nurse) for advice.  I heard the words “6 inches from the top of the butt crack…” and saw Brennen go for the tape measure.  This just kept getting better.  He drew the first circle, put an X through it, and drew another.  Finally, we were ready, and gave and took that progesterone like total champs.  When the needle was out, Brennen asked me how it was.  Tears filled my eyes.  They weren’t sad tears.  They weren’t happy tears.  They were just tears…because here we are…5 days from transfer…and wanting this to work so badly.

So, the plan is to continue PIO until I take a pregnancy test; further instructions will follow depending on the results.  I’ll also take an antibiotic and a steroid, Prednisone, for a few days for transfer prep.  The antibiotic is to help ward off any infections from the procedure, and the Prednisone is administered to address any inflammation that may result from implantation.  Aside from medicine, our hotel is booked, and our bags will be packed by the end of the weekend.  I’ll have to be on bed rest for a couple days following the transfer, so I’ve opted to just stay in Memphis.  My mom will be babysitting me so that Brennen can get back to work.  And that means for those few days we’re in Memphis, she’ll be the one injecting me with PIO. That should be interesting…

Well, that’s about it for now!  My tears have dried up. My butt is starting to feel better. And I have a steak dinner waiting on me. We like to celebrate.  Let the countdown to November 15th begin!

 

Bring on the Estrogen, Baby!

In my last post, I mentioned how things had been pretty slow on the fertility front.  Well, today we started picking up some steam! This morning, we had our first pre-transfer monitoring appointment for a baseline ultrasound and blood work, the first checkpoint in the FET process. Now, this is all uncharted territory for us since our last transfer was a fresh embryo transfer and this time around it is a frozen embryo transfer; but I’ll try to explain our process as best I can. I may have to defer to my human Wikipedia for the reproductive cycle, aka my husband, for help.

At this morning’s appointment, the doctor was checking to see that my uterine lining was thin and that my estrogen was low, around 50 to 60. When Aunt Flo visited a week after the retrieval, I started taking birth control to suppress ovulation, shut down my ovaries, and give my body a chance to reset itself, much like what I did before stimming in September. My husband and I didn’t know exactly what we were looking for on the ultrasound this morning, but we figured we needed to see a sparse uterine lining and some pretty boring ovaries.  So as the doctor scanned over to my right ovary and projected it on the flat screen, I had a mini freak out when I saw what looked like growing follicles.  Nervously I asked, “Are those supposed to be there?” The doctor reassured me that those were the follicles from the retrieval that had filled with fluid and formed tiny cysts – totally normal.  Luckily, none of the cysts were cause for concern.  Whew, right? Next, blood was drawn, and we each went back to work and waited on the call from Memphis.

At 2:00, I got the call that said what we were hoping, “Everything looks good!”  On to the next step!  For the next two weeks, my body will need to build a more embryo-friendly uterine lining. To accomplish that, I’ll have the help of Estrace, an estrogen pill that I’ll take twice a day starting tomorrow (3 times a day in week 2).  Estrogen will help support the thickening of the uterine lining.  And the way we understand it, estrogen also prevents the production of FSH (follicle stimulating hormone), thus continuing to suppress ovulation (more boring ovaries). That is, as long as it is administered towards the beginning of Aunt Flo.   And that, my friends, means that Aunt Flo should be here any day now. What fun!  If you didn’t catch the sarcasm, you’ve probably never had a uterus.

I have to admit, I’m a little nervous about the side effects of this new little pill; but because I’m such a hypochondriac, my husband has warned me, “Do not Google them, Breanne.”  He claims that if I do, I’ll convince myself I’m experiencing every possible one.  So instead, he has looked them up and can be the one that says, “Oh that’s just the Estrace,” when I complain about a throbbing headache (I didn’t cheat; I just heard about that one).

Once I’ve been on the Estrace for 2 weeks, I’ll go back for another monitoring appointment on November 9th to check up on, you guessed it, the lining.  If it looks good, we should be able to schedule the transfer for 5 to 6 days later.

I know that was a lot of technical mumbo jumbo (or at least our attempt at being technical), so thanks for making it this far into our post!  It’s crazy to think we are less than 3 weeks ’til the big day (barring any problems with our November 9th appointment). Emotionally, I guess you could say we’re sound.  We’re a lot better than we have been in the past, even though deciding how many embryos to transfer has caused a little stress over the past few days.  But, we’ve made a decision.  And after giving it a little time to sink in, we’ll take you for a ride on that crazy emotional roller coaster.  Until next time!

 

 

 

Thanks, Sis

Our frozen embryo transfer (FET) is tentatively scheduled for November 14th! The original plan was to wait another month, but our patience is in very short supply these days. The first step was to get on birth control, again. The irony continues. Then, next week I’ll begin taking Estrace if my lining looks “nice and thin” as the nurse put it. After two weeks of Estrace, if my lining has thickened and is ready for an embryo, we will proceed with the transfer 5 to 6 days later, the week of November 14th.

Since I’m just popping one pill per night, it’s been pretty slow on the fertility front. No shots. No crazy hormones. We’ve been using this time to catch up on the non-IVF side of life.  We went to the state fair. I visited one of my best friends and her new baby boy. Brennen traveled to Baton Rouge for a horrific Southern Miss loss to LSU. And I spent a couple days at my parents’ house helping my sister Caitlin transfer old home movies onto DVD’s. Watching those videos reminded me of how annoyingly corny and bossy I was as a child and made me sort of nervous about reproducing! After watching one scene in particular where I stole the video camera and in my nasal country voice narrated the story of Johnny Appleseed played by my dad who was in the front yard poisoning fire ants (not spreading apple seeds), Caitlin warned Brennen with a text, “CANCEL THE TRANSFER!” Then, there’s her favorite – the time I gave a news report from the living room coffee table and warned viewers of “sexual cartoons” and “slight tornadoes” sweeping our nation.

She picks on me a lot, and we have more than our fair share of differences. But she loves me. How do I know? Well, I’m an over-the-top planner when it comes to vacations. It drives Caitlin crazy and usually leads to the bulk of our arguments on family trips, even as twentysomethings.  But this past week we really started hashing out the plans for our upcoming trip to Disney World and Harry Potter World, and she let me be over-the-top…with no complaints. She even told me to create a Google Doc and share it with the family so we could plan our schedule, outfits, Fast Passes, dinners, etc. I didn’t know what to say except, “Really? Me?” And I’m pretty sure I heard a Hallelujah chorus in the background. Although she may not admit it, she knows I need distractions right now, and I think she’s helping me find them…on purpose.

As a thank you, I promised to start reading the Harry Potter books when I’m on bed rest after the transfer and have them finished by the trip. I don’t know much about HP (also something that drives her crazy), but I do know that when my little sister finally becomes Auntie Cait, she’ll have my kid equipped with their very own wand in no time!

Unexpected Emotions

My next post was going to be about our transfer schedule, but I don’t feel like I can give you a true glimpse into our journey without sharing with you what happened between us getting the embryo news and putting the transfer on the calendar.  This post is mainly for my infertility and IVF warriors out there who may be going through the same emotions as me and wondering if you’re alone.  I have to be real about it, even at the risk of sounding whiny or like a terrible person.


The moment Brennen hung up the phone with the lab, he hugged me with tears in his eyes.  It probably would have been a beautiful moment to retell if I would have cried too as we stood there in the kitchen in each other’s embrace.  But that’s not what happened.  My gut reaction was to hold back the tears and harden myself.  I kept saying in my head, “Don’t cry. Don’t cry.”  I haven’t seen Brennen cry during this whole process.  I’ve cried a lot.  So, I felt like it was my turn to be the supportive one. Maybe that’s where my downward spiral began.  Maybe I should have cried.

Don’t get me wrong. I was excited about the news of our frozen embryos.  I just didn’t do a very good job of showing it.  I didn’t cry tears of joy. I didn’t beam from ear to ear.  I didn’t squeal with excitement.  I got, as Brennen would put it, pissy.

After we talked a little more about what the embryologist said, I made the decision that we needed to get out of the house.  We had been sitting in the living room staring at the phone for almost two days, and the walls were closing in on me. I stepped into my closet, and suddenly I could see what a mess it was.  Then, I couldn’t figure out what to wear.  I tried on about 10 different outfits and piled the disregarded ones on the floor with the rest of the mess.  I saw the cluttered bathroom vanity, the loads of laundry, the dingy tub.  I rolled my eyes at Brennen’s outfit choice of a wrinkled t-shirt, shorts, and flip flops, especially since he told me it was cool enough outside for me to wear my boots.  I think I made some smart ass comment like, “Can you try to look like an adult today?” Harsh, I know.  We walked through the kitchen, and I saw the dirty dishes in the sink.  Once we were outside, I saw the weeds in the flowerbed and the spiderwebs draping our awning.  Then, I remembered the meetings I had coming up at work and the conference I had to be at next week.  Suddenly, everything on my to-do list that I had blocked out over the past few weeks came crashing into my head…all at once.

On the way to my in-laws’ house to drop off our dog for the afternoon (spoiled), Brennen was so upbeat and kept talking about our results.  Finally, I said, “Can we just not talk about IVF, embryos, and all that for a second? Just please, stop.” He looked at me shocked and confused, but he quickly covered it up with a look of understanding, even though I knew he didn’t understand.  He said, “Yeah, ok. That’s fine,” and we drove in silence.  This was NOT how I imagined this playing out.  I texted my mom, “What the hell is wrong with me?” “Hormones?” she asked.

She was right…as usual.  The next day, Aunt Flo made her appearance in all her glory.  So yes, I was probably crashing from all the hormones I had been on, and my body was trying to sneak in a quick PMS episode before Cycle Day 1.  And this hormonal imbalance brought all these negative emotions bubbling to the surface.

There was fear.  Just like when Brennen told me the lab had to watch our embyros for one more day, he was excited, but I immediately thought about how we lost all our embryos on day 6 during Round 1.  When I found out we had embryos to freeze, my mind went to “The last transfer didn’t work.” And because I know that this transfer, or future transfers, may not work, I fear that feeling of loss again.  It’s a loss that may be easier to deal with if I can somehow keep myself disconnected from the multi-celled blastocysts we have frozen, or so I thought.  Even though they are just cells, they are part me and part Brennen, and I am connected.  Maybe it’s that motherly instinct.

Then there was anger. When we got to Brennen’s parents’ house, they naturally wanted to talk a little bit about our big news.  At that point, I was more willing to talk about it.  It was slowly sinking in, and I was getting more excited.  I even hammered out a blog post.  Then, in the middle of the happy chatter, I blurted, “You know it really pisses me off.  It pisses me off that I was lead to believe that something was wrong with me.  That I couldn’t do this. That I didn’t have good eggs and wouldn’t make good embryos.”  It was the truth.  I look back at all we went through, and although I was relieved to know that we were able to get high-grade frozen embryos, I was so mad that I had spent all that time feeling so shitty about myself after Round 1.

And above all, the anxiety.  Like I said, for the past few weeks, I’ve blocked out everything that I thought might add stress.  I’ve been floating along, doing life the Brennen way (I’m so jealous of how he can do life sometimes).  Now, back to the to-do list.  Funny story  – During my little freak-out this weekend, I sat on the edge of the bed while Brennen tried to talk me through what was stressing me.  It went like this:

Me: I’m unnecessarily stressing about things I shouldn’t even be stressing over!

Brennen: Yes, you do that. Just forget about everything else, and tell me what the next step is on your list.  We’ll do it.

Me: I have to write a speech by Wednesday.

Brennen: YOU HAVE TO WRITE A SPEECH?!?!?!?!

Welcome to my head, Brennen!

I’m proud to report that my mood did improve during our late lunch Sunday. We talked about when we thought the transfer may be and how many we would transfer.  We talked about being injection free for a while, and we talked about things not IVF.  We even took the time to hit a few Pokestops.

I’m so excited to have the success we have had so far this round and know we should consider ourselves lucky.  Still, I’m an emotional fuster cluck lately.  I did such a good job prior to and during stimming of letting things go and accepting what was out of my control.  Somehow I’ve gotta whip myself back into shape and find that “zen” I had just a short time ago.  I know it’s not too far gone…

P.S. Hormones. Blah.

Hurry Up and Wait

You would think that as much waiting as we’ve had to do during the IVF process, we’d get better at it; but I guess practice doesn’t always make perfect.  We received a call this morning from the embryologist to update us on the development and growth of our embryos, so we wanted to pass it along.  Before we do that, we want to clear up all the numbers we’ve thrown around lately.

Number of eggs retrieved on Monday = 41

Number of mature eggs fertilized using ICSI (sperm injected into the egg) = 26

Number of embryos on Day 1 after fertilization = 21 (5 of the eggs didn’t successfully fertilize)

Number of embryos on Day 2 after fertilization = 21 (11 rated A- to B+, 10 rated B to B-)

That’s where we were as of Wednesday morning when the embryologist called us.  We had gone from 41 eggs to 21 embryos.  We didn’t get an update on Days 3 and 4.  On Day 3, the embryo cells continue to divide.  On Day 4, differentiation occurs.  During differentiation, some of the cells form a border around the edge of the embryo; these cells become the placenta.  Another group of cells clump up in the middle and will eventually become the baby.  You can clearly see these two groups of cells in the embryo that we transferred during Round 1.

 

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Transferred Embryo from Round 1

 

From what we’ve read and been told, a high rate of embryo arrest occurs on Day 4 during this differentiation stage.  We’ve heard it referred to as the “die off day.” So naturally, we expected our number to drop from 21.

This morning (Day 5), Breanne’s phone rang at 9:45, and we flew to it with me yelling, “Let me answer! Let me answer!”  The embryologist informed me that we had 6 embryos – 3 that looked really good and 3 that looked pretty good.  However, they weren’t quite ready to be frozen.  It sounded like great news to me, but when I told Breanne, I could see the worry in her eyes.  Like last time, it looks like we have some slow growers.  And last time, our embryos didn’t make it.  She made the connection pretty quickly and just sat in bed staring across the room.  I let her stare for a little while then asked, “Well, what are you feeling?”  She responded, “Chocolate.”  That’s not exactly what I meant, but it summed it all up.  I went and bought my wife lots of chocolate.  So much, in fact, that the lady at Livingston Sweet Shoppe asked me if we were having a party.  I said yes to avoid looking like too much of a fat kid.

The embryologist told me he would check the embryos again this evening, and if they were ready to be frozen, he would call.  If not, he would check again Sunday morning and call us.  Let me just stop right here and say that waiting on a phone call that may not even come is miserable.  As the eternal optimist in the relationship, I hung up with the embryologist this morning feeling really upbeat.  But as the day went on, my excitement turned to nervous anticipation.  Breanne’s sister called around 6:15 this evening, and I jumped.  I could feel my heart in my throat.  Her phone hasn’t rung since.

It’s 8:30 now, and at this point we aren’t expecting a phone call until tomorrow.  So, it looks like tonight will be another night of Tylenol PM and Netflix until we can’t hold our eyes open anymore.