Restless Journey: Finding a Place to Fit In But Not to Settle

A story of a Harvard student going through IVF

The Expert(s)…

This week marks my 37th week. That means my son has reached full term. It is still so surreal to me. I almost forgot all the hassle and pains we went through to just try to get this pregnancy viable. I don’t even recall the number of times I had my blood drew for measuring progesterone.

All I do everyday is to watch my baby movement, count his kicks and the random contraction (even during sleep). That’s all matter to me these days. At least, it is my sole responsibility before pushing him out.

Aside from the outpouring kind words and congratulations from friends and family members, I do (occasionally) receive pregnancy advice (!) from men and women who have never gone through childbirth before. It added weight to me at the beginning but now, I just learned to take with a grain of salt. And secretly, I would just whisper to myself “they are idiots!”

One guy has repeatedly telling me that I have to walk as long as I can before labor. He claims that he walked with his pregnant wife for at least 90 mins every day prior to labor. I don’t really want to do any fact check but even if it is true, I applause to his wife’s physical strength! But folks, please remember that every pregnancy is different. Let alone every human body is not made the same. My baby likes to swim between my cervix / uterus area and stomach. I get lucky to walk around ONLY if he isn’t sitting on my bladder, adding 6 lbs+ pressure to my vaginal canal. I also don’t know how much babies weight do other carry. But imagine you are carrying a bowling ball (>5 lbs at least) inside your tummy that is connected to all your organs and you try to roll for 15 mins. Simple physic would tell you that your upper body muscle, especially stomach area, would stretch to the point that it would feel like being torn apart. Thanks to gravity and yet, the pain won’t go away by simply holding up your bowling ball  belly.

A 40 y.o. woman who has never pregnant before also asked me to be ‘physically active and walk more’ to help the labor. I appreciate the thoughtfulness but who gave you the credentials to coach other pregnant women?!

Showing a kind gesture to others does not mean you are obligated to give them advice or a ‘to-do list’. All I am asking is to trust that we (the one that are going through this) are totally capable to assess our abilities to care for our bodies and babies. This is just simply called ‘mother’s instinct’. And if we speak up and ask for help, you better believe in us as we know exactly what’s going on internally.

I welcome and am forever grateful for all the caring and warm wishes. All I am asking is to trust us.

Remembering My Aunt’s Last Words

I am currently 35 weeks going to 36 weeks pregnant. Medically speaking, without waiting till the exact due date, I could be in labor at any time.

For the past week or two, I can feel the significant growth of the baby. I can feel his bone, his ankle (I think), his feet. And when I touch his head, he moves even more.

I created a human inside me. And I can’t wait to kiss him and hold him tight. I just realized that his due date falls into the exact week when we lost our first child 2 years ago. What a coincidence!

I have been very fortunate to have an uneventful pregnancy all along. From the IVF till the last ultrasound, everything went so smoothly. I don’t even have morning sickness nor swollen feet / hands like many others. I can still sleep soundly at night (with the help of the pregnancy pillow). And best of all, my husband’s flexible schedule has taken away a lot of stress from me.

I am one lucky girl!

Yet, till recently, I can’t fight off the growing worrisome of my parents and in-law’s arrival after my baby is born. I am about to bring a little stranger home, let along living with parents/in-law who came from a very different cultural background and upbringing than us.  I am worry that I will be arguing with my mom about what’s best for my baby; I am concerned that I will be bodyshammed by my in-law, who has done that many times in the past. I was even thinking about my’escape plan’ in case of family dispute…

This has been driving me nuts…. I posted my concern on my online support group’s forum and the advice and support were outpouring. Yet, I am still trying to think of different ways to protect myself (my dignity) for all sort of crazy scenarios…

But what really rings the bell in my head these days was the words I remember from my late Aunt’s speech in our old church before she died from cancer – It was almost 20+ years ago…My aunt was diagnosed with late stage nasal cavity cancer. Here she is post chemo, wearing a winter heat (to cover her head) and giving a testimony in front of 30 to 50 audiences. I can’t really recall what was the exact topic she has selected. But she stumbled upon a subject about her regret in life.  Of all the things she has done in her life, she regretted not paying enough respect to my late grandmother while they were living together. She married to my uncle in the mid 80s and they both lived in a 150 sq.ft (or less) government housing in Hong Kong with my grandma. Very soon, she delivered my baby cousin and the house got even more crowded. Grandma took the responsibility to take care of my cousin, while both my uncle and aunt returned to work. The relationship between my aunt and grandma started gone south as the result of daily disagreement over numerous things. One day, my uncle had to get down on his knee in front of grandma to apologize for all the dispute. Very soon after that, my grandma’s diabetes became worse and she died in the hospital because of congestive heart failure. She never made it to the day to see my baby cousin walking and/or her first day to school.

Almost 12 years later, my aunt got sick. In her final days, she recalled her times with my grandma and resented how immature she was back in the days. Of all the things she has done in her life,  her biggest regret was that she didn’t treasure my grandma’s existence and her help to the family. She felt she took it for granted. And she wanted the audience to know about this – it is too late to apologize now.

I never understood why I could remember her speech after all these years until now. Just when I feel worry about what will happen between me and my parents/in-law, I need to be thankful for the company that is supporting us. My aunt has been giving me the ‘warning sign’ all along, even before I met my then boyfriend (now husband): Put gratitude before everything.  There will be up and down but we can’t ignore the fact that after all, someone is supporting YOUR family while you are out there chasing your dreams.

My aunt didn’t live long enough to see me getting marry. And she would never get to meet my son. But she left me the best advice ever.

Thank you Aunt! I miss you very much.

Decline

Couple days ago, a recruiter from a big company reached out for me for a position. I have known this firm for years and I applied 2 years ago when I was still with my old job. I didn’t get the position back then. So you could imagine I felt overwhelmingly flattered when they pitched me a job…

The job description started with this sentence – “This position requires at least 30% traveling”.

When I was a kid, I always admired people traveling for business. Though I never had a clue of what people actually ‘do’ when they are on a business trip, I thought being in different places, checking in luxury hotel rooms and meeting different people would be the ‘highlight’ of my career…

Until I was in my previous position, in which I had to drive alone for 2-3+ hours, navigating through the endless walnut farms and sitting in meetings with strangers for lobbying some ever changing contract policies, I then realized “business trips’ aren’t as fun and rewarding as I imagined. I was so lonely. I really didn’t see the purpose of me wasting my time on all these ‘road trips’.

Interestingly enough, as I scrolled down to the bottom of the job description from the recruiter, I saw the the requirement for traveling has now changed from 30% to 40% …It could be a human error or it could be a very honest expectation for the candidate.

I then turned my head to look at my son’s picture. He has been swimming in my womb and being a super star in all growth charts. I don’t want to trade his first word, first walk with any stupid road trips and/or any more lobbying events.

I respectfully decline the opportunity. Till next time.

Every “Kick” Is a Blessing

I am sitting here enjoying every little ‘kick’ from my miracle nugget…

Today is 20 weeks and 2 days. I am half way through the pregnancy. From the beginning till the 18.5 weeks, I had been in disbelief of the fact that ‘I am pregnant!’, despite the countless ultrasounds, blood draws and my growing tummy.  Just like Amanda Micheli, the Oscar nominated director of the movie “Vegas Baby” whom also went through infertility treatment, said “This amazing development has ironically presented a new challenge for me; I am not used to good news on this topic! The best way I can describe it is like PTSD: until quite recently, it was practically impossible for me to believe that this pregnancy was going to stick. Even writing this now, I am knocking on wood so hard, my knuckles might bleed.” 

For the longest time (since my miscarriage), I had been avoiding to shop at the baby section at the department store except getting a few things for my family or friends who were expecting. Picking up baby clothes, choosing nursery room decor, or talking about car seat selection are totally luxury to me (and to my husband…I think). Being able to get pregnant and beating all the odds throughout the whole 10 months are still very surreal to us. Just like people living with PTSD, we are always terrified by the idea that ‘what if? what if it (the baby) doesn’t stick?’ This has been keeping us from truly enjoying the success of our first IVF attempt.

My paranoid began slowly fading away when I entered 18 – 19 weeks…I started feeling a little ‘kick’ from my lower abdomen. At first, I thought those were just gas! Yet, as I started paying close attention, I could feel a little creature twisting its body or stretching its legs right below my belly button. The feeling is so incredible. Every move, twist and turn reminds me the existence of my little man. He has his routine and preferences. He will swim ‘back and forth’ to pick a side when I go to bed at night. At times when I start worrying about him (for not moving much within a certain period), he would give me a ‘a ‘little dance’ for the sake of reassurance…He has been a very good boy!

I can sit here all day awaiting for his next kick. Nothing more intimate and loving than feeling your baby moving and growing inside your womb. No fetal doppler or ultrasound picture can bring me the joy of simply feeling him.

I can finally breath a little easier. I can now have the courage to plan ahead.

We Are United By Infertility, Pregnancy & Motherhood

It is almost unbearable to watch the news these days.  The daily non-sense from the Cheetos head, the very nonproductive Congress, and the on-going oppression to the most vulnerable folks in our nation – which make you wonder how can we continue our lives with faith and hope?

I live in a ‘Blue Bubble’, where equality and social justice are ‘norm’ in our community. Yet, I can’t ignore the fact that folks from the rest of the nation might have a very different views on politic and humanity. But throughout the journey of infertility and pregnancy, I have been amazed and impressed by the power of ‘sisterhood’. By the grace of Facebook, a strong force of feminine power from all over the world have been supporting me through my up and down. Suddenly, we’re not divided by our physical, philosophical and/or political differences. Instead, we’re all united by our pain from the infertility treatment and our hopes to pursue a healthy and successful pregnancy.

I have been frustrated and feeling guilty of putting my career aside for IVF treatment. And out of the blue, I was connected to an amazing lady from South Africa, who has made a similar decision in order to focus on self love and recovery. My battle with panic attack and anxiety aren’t completely over. Yet, I found voices from these support groups whose ladies are all ‘in my shoes’. They offered me instant empathy (sometimes solutions, too) at the moments I needed the most.

I feel loved. I am literally experiencing human kindness amid all the craziness from the world these days. May be this is a silver lining from my uneasy path of pregnancy. May be this is a story worth telling to my future children…

Here is a picture from a very special friend who sent me 14 cards with motivational quotes to help me get through my toughest days.

The beginning of life

By the grace of God (or the creator of this universe), I became one of the lucky ones. I am pregnant!

This baby survived my panic attack, my emotional roller coaster, my low body temperature and all the side effects from my medication.

I couldn’t resist but to do a home pregnancy test 2 days before my beta test, a blood test conducted by your doctor office to confirm HCG hormone level. Unlike other pregnancy tests I did before, this time it only took less than a min to show the result. It blinked for a few secs and then boomed! It said “Pregnant”. I double checked to make sure there is no ‘NOT’ before the word ‘P’. I forgot to mention that I tested this at 5:30am, at the break of dawn. My husband rushed to the bathroom to see if I was ok. I showed him the result and we hugged.

Yet, I still wasn’t convinced that I am truly pregnant. It could be the leftover HCG from my pre-transfer trigger shot. Or, a trace of HCG detected by home pregnancy test isn’t a proven sign of a viable pregnancy….

On Jun 23, I woke up early and got myself ready for my 1st beta test. I even arrived at my doctor office 10 mins earlier. By 11am, I walked out from their lab and patiently waited for the result to come back. It was the longest wait ever and I was worry that I would have another panic attack during the wait. So I did everything I could to ‘kill time’ and to relax myself. I put on my earplugs and played my ‘anxiety reduction playlist’ nonstop. I walked around the lake by my doctor office and watched the baby duckies swimming around. An hour has passed and I still didn’t get a phone call. So I decided to drive back home and to be accompanied by my furry daughter. Throughout the entire ride, I played Coldplay’s “Strawberry Swing”, one of the songs recommended by neuroscientists for stress reduction. Just when I got home, my phone rang. Angela, my in-cycle nurse first asked me if I was driving. I told her I just got home and that she reached me at the perfect timing. Then she said “I have a good news for you. Your HCG result is 157. That means your home pregnancy test is correct. I am happy for you!” I busted into tears but feeling dizzy at the same time.

It’s positive. There is real a life inside me. I am really pregnant.

 

The dream I don’t want to forget

I woke up feeling content. I know the dream that I had last night left me great sense of comfort and feeling self-worth.

It is not about child birth. Nothing about seeing a BFP (big fat positive) pregnancy test result.

It was me working in a small school district as an interim Operation Head. I was assigned by the Superintendent (for some very lame reasons). 1st day on the job – my desk has piles and piles of paper and proposal to sign, teachers and PTAs were lining up to see me. I had a pretty competent secretary called Angel or Angele, who I could trust despite  I was new to the job.

I met with the teacher who wanted me to add supports and funding to the school health programs for students and parents.  I was eager to help. I asked her to give me a list of priorities and we can go through them in the next meeting. I also told her I have resources and experience in launching health program. She seemed happy the way I responded her.

I noticed the school district people had no idea who I am and where I came from. So I asked my secretary to forward me the announcement that the Superintendent emailed out about my appointment. As expected, it didn’t say much except my name and the high school I graduated from (!)

I knew there has been some discrepancies in funding allocation to the school operation and student support programs. Knowing that it is quite inflexible to make arrangement due to teacher union, I planned on setting up a separate foundation that will fund directly to the student programs. This way, I could bypassed the politics and have the student program up and running without any red taps from school administrators and teachers.

I was also planning to hire my recently unemployed RD friend to run the school nutrition program.

I like my secretary very much. I even wanted her to be the member of my sounding board.

I told myself even I am just an interim. I will do the best I can to make this school district works. I was really happy in the dream because I got to be in a position that make things moving. Driving progress, pulling resources and tackling issues for this small community.

It isn’t some fancy position, in which I was bringing a health tech IT company to IPO or me being a political figure driving a huge movement. It was just me working hard in the office, trying to help this small school district connecting the dots and moving forward.

Nothing fancy. All I want is to feel being useful.

The Most Miscellaneous Battle(s)

 

Today is 7dp5dt. If you wonder what that language is, it is the abbreviation used in the IVF community. It meant 7 Days Post (5-day blastocyst )Transfer. It’s like Morse code. It took me a while to catch up with what the ladies were saying in the support groups.

I was planning to do a home pregnancy test today but my acupuncturist asked me not to. It is because the hormone shot that I took before my embryo transfer might alter the test result. She is right. It has been a week since the transfer and I have already gone through a panic attack and daily anxiety drill. With the side effects from both steroid and progesterone, no one would want to see me going through another emotional roller coaster ride(s).

So I will patiently wait till my blood test on Friday to detect HCG, the pregnancy hormone test at doctor’s office. I am good at self-controlling.

Meantime, I have to battle with the miscellaneous side effects from my hormone pills – constipation, mood swing, edema, weight gain, greasy hair, bloating, cramping and spotting.

The most bizarre thing is that all these side effects are similar to the early pregnancy signs. So you have no way to tell whether you are truly ‘pregnant’ or you are just being played by the artificial hormone swimming in your blood stream.

“Is this the type of pink for implantation bleeding?”

“Is this cramping different than the one I had earlier?”

“Why I sweat so much?”

“Why my foot are so cold even with the socks on?”

“I don’t want to eat this. Am I pregnant?”

“I got no pants to wear. I look like an elephant!”

“Why am I not feeling nausea?”

“I am so bloated. It looks like I am wearing an air bag!”

And every time when I can combat an anxiety attack and/or having a regular bowl movement (sorry for TMI but this is real), that’s my moment to celebrate my victory.

So miscellaneous. Yet, it took so much efforts to fight each and everyone of them.

 

 

I had my panic attack today

It was so real. I had my panic attack today, 3 days after my embryo transfer.

I felt like I have blew my transfer, my IVF. I felt defeated. I was sitting in the restaurant trying to have lunch and all the sudden, I felt racing heat. I felt like I don’t belong to this place and I can’t access to anyone. I am all alone. The stress that I am bearing isn’t fair. What I am going through isn’t putting myself first. I feel very uncomfortable. I feel unease. I don’t know what to do.

I tried to finish my lunch as fast as I could. Then I left the place and went across the street to a Starbucks. The sun was shinning upon me and I was walking up to the door. I remember I almost fainted as I was trying to pull the door.

As I sat in Starbucks, I felt helpless. I was trying to distract myself by ear dropping what other people were talking. I was trying to check my Facebook for news. I was trying to think of what can I do to get myself out of the panic attack. Then, I felt so exhausted. I felt so helpless.

I wanted to call somebody and tell them “I am having a panic attack!”. But I know no one can save me at that min.

This is how depression and panic attack feel like. I feel even more guilty as I am bearing a responsibility, a task to allow this embryo to grow in my womb. Yet, I might have just blew it.

I am torn. I am mentally exhausted. I just want to find a place to rest and be mindless. Just me and no one else.

Just me.

I know you before you formed into sharp…

He is in me now

 

PUPO – this is a term often used by the IVF community, which means “Pregnant until proven otherwise”.

Guess what, I am officially ‘PUPO’.  Two days ago, our doctor has put this beautifully hatched embryo into my womb. Its identity number is 7, meaning the 7th embryo created from the egg retrieval and fertilization in April. Along with its 6 ‘siblings’, it had been quietly sitting in the freezer before the doctor decided the transfer day.

From the day of the embryo transfer, the two-week wait has officially began. I have been warned that the wait is excruciating. There are only 2 things running in my mind – A. the embryo sticks or B. it doesn’t.

For those who have never gone through the infertility journey, it is often easy to say “don’t stress out! Relax. It will be fine!” I understand the intention is right and that message is full of kindness and care. Yet, it is easier said than done. If we could all relax and not to care a damn thing, no one would be here fighting infertility.

I have been to the joy of being pregnant. I have also been to the heartbreak of losing our child. To combat this two-week waiting, I believe my life experience has prepared me well. Regardless of what is happening (inside my womb), I believe that, somehow, the outcome is already there. Our destiny has already been set. What I really need to treasure and focus is that in this moment,  I am absolutely sure that this embryo has been with us. We are(were) at least together for sometime. And I get to know all about it before it formed into sharp.

Mama loves you. Hope you alright.

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