Is this thing on?
It's been a while, hasn't it? I am behind by two birthdays and a vacation. And that's just scratching the surface. We moved, Matt started a new job, and the school year ended. Life's been a bit crazy these past few months, but the dust has started to settle and yet I still feel slightly paralyzed when I think about revisiting this blog. And I've decided it's because there's one story I need to tell before I can start telling all the rest. Even if it's a hard story to share. So here it goes...
My "number" has always been four.
As Lucy grew out of her babyhood, the questions about whether or not Matt and I would try for number four inevitably started. My answer was always the same: we'd both love a fourth but I wasn't going to go through any medical interventions this time. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn't, that's okay.
Well, that's easy to say until all of a sudden it doesn't happen, and you realize you don't feel so okay about it after all. So after months of being disappointed but pretending not to really be disappointed (if you have ever experienced infertility, you are probably familiar with the amazing mind tricks you manage to play on yourself to try to stay sane), Matt and I decided that if this was really something we wanted - and we both agreed that it was - it was time to go ahead and call my reproductive endocrinologist.
So last December I did just that and made an appointment to see my old doctor, the one who helped me conceive Claire more than five years ago through IVF.
The next day I took a home pregnancy test.
It was positive.
In that moment, part of me got giddy with excitement and thought about what a great story this would make when I announced my pregnancy in a few months time. But another part of me - the part that has been down this road far too many times before - knew there was a good chance I would never get to make that announcement.
It was that same part of me that decided to keep that appointment at the fertility clinic just in case, and the same part that responded very matter-of-factly a few weeks later when I got the call telling me what I already knew: that my pregnancy hormone levels were dropping and I was most likely having a miscarriage.
In January I went to that appointment and made a plan with my doctor. Shortly afterward, there was another positive pregnancy test, and another small seed of hope that ended in disappointment.
And so in February I strapped myself in and started my IVF cycle, and all the daily injections and constant 6:45am doctor's visits that went along with it. The numbers from that cycle went like this:
22 eggs retrieved. 11 mature. 2 fertilized normally. 0 survived.
I was so confident that things would work out for me just like they did with Claire that this result was a huge blow to me. It was in that moment that I realized for the first time that the picture I'd always imagined of my family really might never become a reality.
At this point I was emotionally and physically exhausted. I would have loved to just forget the whole thing and move on with life. But I didn't ever want to find myself at some point down the road regretting that I didn't try hard enough. And so I decided to do one more cycle, which I started in late April. To quote my favorite nurse Cathie, things "looked beautiful" this time around. The numbers from cycle #2 went like this:
20 eggs retrieved. 13 mature. 10 fertilized.
I'm not going to lie. Hopes were extremely high this time around. So when my doctor called on day 6 to report how many embryos we would be able to freeze and test via CCS (because of my miscarriage history), my heart sank when he told me there was only 1 that was still hanging on, and the quality of that one embryo was so poor that it was most likely not viable and would not survive the freeze process.
And just like that, the door officially swung shut behind me. There would be no number four for us.
Could I have tried again? Maybe. But two times was the line I had drawn in the sand. The emotional toll of IVF can't be underestimated (even though I liked to shrug it off as no big deal), and there was no doubt that my girls got the short end of the stick during those months as a result. At some point I knew it was time to re-focus on them.
To be honest, once I knew the outcome of the second IVF cycle I felt like a weight had been lifted. Just to have an answer one way or another was such a relief. I was really positive about the whole thing until nurse Cathie called and left me a message a few days later. On it I heard this tough, no-nonsense woman holding back tears and telling me how disappointed she was for me.
And that's when I realized it was okay to be sad.
I think this whole time I've felt a little silly. I've thought a lot about how people out there - especially women struggling to have just one child (aka my 2003 self) - would probably think I am ridiculous not to be satisfied with the three incredible and dynamic children I already have. And it's true that words really can't do justice to express how grateful I am for their presence in my life. They are more than I could have ever imagined. But we all have different visions for our lives, and I had to give myself permission to mourn the loss of this particular dream.
Ironically, for somebody who is really bad at goodbyes, I think the hardest part for me is to think that I missed out on properly saying goodbye to all my lasts: last birth experience, last middle of the night feedings, last first steps. And the reminder that those lasts have already come and gone keep surprising me like a punch in the gut, like when I'm unpacking boxes and suddenly come across old baby gear I've been carefully saving that I suddenly realize I have no use for anymore.
I can't lie and say that it's not hard for me when Ella tells me how much she wants another baby in our house. If only she understood how desperately I tried to give that to her. I also can't tell you that the empty sixth chair at our dining room table never catches my eye or puts a pit in my stomach.
But I can tell you that my love and gratitude for my girls has been magnified by this experience, and bit by bit I'm allowing a new vision for our family to take hold.
Matt's lucky number has always been three.
And I'm beginning to see that maybe that's been my number all along too.