Surviving Survival Mode to Embrace My Inner Wisdom

I saw my original acupuncturist, who is also a doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) on June 14th. Let’s call her Dr. Gratitude. Dr. Gratitude, the LP and I worked together from 2010 to 2012, which period saw me through my first two pregnancy losses and the birth of our Miracle Toddler.

When my menses returned in early 2013 and the LP and I earnestly began trying to have a second living child, Dr. Gratitude was on medical leave and, later, maternity leave. Despite that, we stayed in touch and she followed our efforts with my current acupuncturist, to whom Dr. Gratitude referred me when she could not help us last year.

After 5 pregnancy losses between 4 to 10 weeks with my own eggs since early 2013 and then a very early pregnancy loss with a perfect donor-egg embryo in May 2014, Dr. Gratitude announced she was returning to work, though in a new location far from my home. I wrote her an e-mail explaining my history over the past 17 months, describing my fear and suspicion that my immune system is acting up and interfering with my ability to stay pregnant, detailing the meds and supplements I had been on and the protocol that our current RE has proposed for our next frozen embryo transfer (FET) with either one or both of our two remaining donor-egg (DE) blastocysts. She advised me to stop all but a few of the supplements I was on and supported my decision to follow an anti-inflammatory diet and continue avoiding gluten and dairy in my diet (I have also limited or eliminated processed sugars from my diet though I never ate much sugar to begin with).

At my June 14th appointment, I was relieved to see Dr. Gratitude. My body, however, was in Post-Recurrent-Pregnancy-Loss-Stress-Disorder mode, apparently, because Dr. Gratitude noted that my heart was beating irregularly, beating three times then pausing. After observing my pulses and other TCM markers and speaking with me during the appointment, Dr. Gratitude noted I am occasionally in “survival mode” (or what I call Post RPL Stress Disorder mode; if it were up to me, that would become a new diagnosis in the DSM-5).

Surprise number one for me at this appointment was that I did not even know I was stressed when I first sat down with Dr. Gratitude. But of course I was. I am stressed every time I face someone who might have some influence – positive or otherwise – on our efforts to have a second living child. I am stressed every time I am reminded of my loss history, the countless unknowns (starting with “why is this happening?” and “can it be fixed?”), and the risk of more loss or, worse than more loss, the possibility that we will never add another child into our family no matter what herculean efforts are engaged.

Surprise number two was Dr. Gratitude suggesting that the LP’s sperm may be a contributing factor. This has been brushed off or ignored or dismissed by every doctor we have consulted and the two REs with whom we have done IVF (own egg and more recently donor egg). The LP has had a number of SAs (semen analyses) but never has it been considered that he could be responsible for any part of our recurrent pregnancy loss (and particularly the secondary recurrent miscarriage) woes. He’s never even had a DNA fragmentation test, though I did ask about this with our first RE. The LP is considered a “proven male” because he co-produced our Miracle Toddler and two (now adult) children with Wife #1.

Dr. Gratitude acknowledged that because we got three blastocysts out of 6 donor eggs earlier this year using the LP’s sperm via ICSI, if there is a problem, it may be one of quality and not virility per se. We also talked about the possibility that the epigenetic changes effected in my body during my pregnancy with the Miracle Toddler may have left me rejecting babies, at least male babies, and possibly reacting to the LP’s sperm. I told Dr. Gratitude that I have requested a consult with Dr. Braverman, a Reproductive Immunologist in New York, who is a leader in that field of research and treatment but so far no return call (despite the promise to respond within 48 hours to such requests). I also told her that I do not know whether I will undergo the testing necessary to make these determinations because of the costs associated with them.

To be truthful, there is another reason I am reluctant to undergo the tests; I am reticent to be told there is nothing wrong that can currently be diagnosed by Western Medicine (or at least Braverman or one of his co-horts, including another RI with whom I have considered consulting) because then where do I go and what do I do? I suppose I could do what I had decided we would do next – try the immune protocol our current RE has recommended, perhaps with a couple of tweaks I’d like to ask him about, and see what happens. But will I be able to convince myself that it will work in the face of one “normal” diagnosis after another? Do I want to spend my money on more testing or other attempts to have this elusive second child we so desperately long to bring home? There is a finite amount of money to go around and I need to keep that in mind going forward. As matters stand, I have a substantial loan that will take me years to pay off in relation to the money we’ve already spent since last year on this journey.

Dr. Gratitude does not believe that our recurrent losses are simply, as Western Medicine has repeatedly told me, a product of “old eggs”. Segue to surprise number three. She wants to help me with my immune system and support any pregnancy we may be able to achieve, but she believes that my own eggs (or some of them – it’s inevitable that a good chunk of them will not produce a viable pregnancy at my age) and my body could sustain a pregnancy with proper supports (one of which is progesterone supplementation). In fact, she said that if the LP and I want to try to conceive “naturally” during this break we are taking right now, she would be ecstatic and ready to support us if a pregnancy resulted. She also said we could do this after our next transfer if it is not successful, barring some unforeseen development.

For context, I should note that Dr. Gratitude has always been conservative in voicing her views and stating her opinion or advice unless she is confident it is well-grounded and will do no harm. For her to say this was huge and she acknowledged that, noting that of course she supports us choosing to stick with DE as well, she simply wanted us to know her views and have options.

Surprise number three was a bit of a shock, to be honest. I had pretty much given up on my eggs. Interestingly, however, I had lamented shortly before the appointment to the LP that I wished we could just have a baby of our own making and not need the remaining DE embryos (though I added that I knew that was so near to impossible as to make it inconceivable).

The LP and I don’t know what we will do. He is afraid of me getting my hopes up. I am afraid of that, too. We are both averse to inviting more loss and suffering upon us (though there are no guarantees with my eggs or donor eggs in that department, it would seem). He says he would be unhappy about us having spent so much money on DE if we could have had another living child without the expense and all I’ve been through already to chase that dream. I do not share that feeling, but I do understand and respect it.

In fact, if someone said “if you pay more than $30,000 as the price of admission to having your longed-for second living child, only to discover later you need not have done so”, I would call the bank for a loan. I would do it in a heartbeat. Perhaps that is my survival mode voice speaking? I don’t think so, it feels like a very grounded decision to me. It feels like a no-brainer. But of course life does not work like that. And for us, infertility – heck, our relationship – has never worked like this. Every happy ending for us has involved a number of hurdles and significant risks of losing out on that happy ending. Our love and our journey to grow a family have entailed many heartbreaks and much suffering. We are older, wiser souls because of it, but we know better than to expect an easy path to anywhere we long to go.

Perhaps one of the most important things Dr. Gratitude said to me at our recent appointment was that I need to learn to listen to my body and what my intuition – as opposed to my panic, my survival mode – is telling me and where it is guiding me. She suggested when I’m considering a decision (such as testing, protocols, transferring one or two, etcetera), I should observe whether the feeling and direction is emanating from my belly (my intuition) or my chest (my anxiety – the survival mode me). If it’s the latter, I need to work through that. If it’s the former, I should trust myself and the direction in which my intuition is suggesting we travel.

That sounds easy enough. It is not and will not be easy. But I am prepared to do my best to follow that advice, as I have already been doing in some respects for many months now. It is a little daunting to think I am in charge here but if I look back at the past 17 months, I see that I have already come a long way toward believing my inner voice and the gut feelings I sometimes cannot explain.

Maybe that is exactly what our spirit baby, Azulito, has been waiting for?

I sure hope so.

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18 thoughts on “Surviving Survival Mode to Embrace My Inner Wisdom

  1. I would do the same thing. Tell me to pay X and I am guaranteed a living baby? Done. I am so afraid it will never happen again. I’m definitely in survival mode right with you.

  2. So much to think about, to consider. I hate there is a price of bringing a child into the world for some of us… I wish you happiness and success going forward.

    • I hope I figure out what my decisions are – ha ha! I got my e-mail from Braverman’s clinic today and I’m not sure what I want to do about it. I’m procrastinating for the moment. I guess that’s a decision!

      I find it hard to trust intuition when it comes to IVF… so much at stake, so little that is “natural” or “normal”… and the crap of the past year and a half has really gutted my self-confidence in a myriad of ways. So Dr. Gratitude’s advice is perfect, I suppose. Just easier said than done. 😉

      • I agree. The breaks vs. non-breaks have completely confused me. Saturday night my SIL says Oh you will get prego now because you are on a break! Well that hasn’t happened… I feel like my intuition knows we will have babies but it’s like a broken compass for how and when.

        • Ha ha – I totally hear you about the broken compass. I had the distinct feeling as I wrote this post that our spirit baby is waiting for something, but I don’t seem to have a hot clue what that something is. Give me a hint already, will you?

          I don’t know about breaks anymore. I think we go with our guts and just roll with it. What else?

  3. Wow, it sounds like Dr. Gratitude gave you a lot to think about! It’s interesting too because, I think I’m in full agreement with her. A year ago when we first decided to try IVF so we could test our embryos, everyone convinced me that I had bad eggs and this was the best decision moving forward, and yet my gut told me trust my body and keep trying on my own, but my fear of more losses won out. I made the decision to proceed with the $30,000+ in procedures so we could test our embryos from my chest, from fear and anxiety, and well you know how it all went –scary thought, maybe $30,000 is the going rate for a baby these days! just kidding, sort of– 🙂 I don’t regret trying though, because with every decision, comes more information. And I don’t think you should regret trying DE. If you hadn’t, you would always have wondered, and you still have 2 embryos to transfer, and one or both could be your next baby(s). And if not, yes, we know the doctor’s are probably right and our eggs are a big contributing factor, but I there could be other contributing factors. Either way, I don’t think, it’s unreasonable to try again on your own with your eggs now or later, regardless of the fact that you spent all that money on donor eggs. Yes, egg quality might be diminished, but you have one miracle child as proof that there are still some good eggs in there. I’m sending you all the healing energy I have and praying for you to find complete balance. It sounds like Dr. Gratitude is helping you get there. Hugs.

    • I *LOVE* this comment – thank you.I don’t regret paying for our DE cycle at all and hope I never do – whatever happens. I acted in good faith and with a heartfelt desire to bring home our little Azulito (I am still convinced this spirit child is meant to become part of our family, somehow… someday) and if it doesn’t work, or it proves to be unnecessary, I will not regret it. I would have lived with endless regret had I *not* gone down this road. I thought of you a lot this weekend as I was mulling all of this over – we have so many parallels and your story is so sad and yet miraculous too (from your own birth to the present day). This appointment with Dr. Gratitude was not at all what I expected and I am accepting that this is a good thing. I just need some time to digest and wait for my gut to lead me where I need to go.

      • I remember saying those exact words when I finally agreed to try IVF with PGD. I said, “I don’t want to look back in years to come and regret not at least trying”, and regardless of the outcome, I really don’t and I never will.

        Take as much time as you need. You’ll know what to do when the time is right 🙂

        • Thank you so much, my dear friend.

          As for timing, I just figured out that an August cycle is really unlikely because of the RE’s vacation schedule and my likely natural cycle dates (anticipated). I’m of course assuming we either won’t try during the next month (and this month is likely a write off as I got Dr. Gratitude’s advice at a rather optimal time and the LP’s equipment was… unavailable, shall we say) …. in short, that we won’t be pregnant naturally over the summer if we do try. So it may be September before we can do another FET anyway. And that may be a good thing because I feel no closer to knowing what the right thing to do is and I hope that a few more weeks of me trying to calm my immune system can only be a good thing. And you’re right, I will know when the time is right for whatever we decide.

  4. First – if you DO decide to come to new york city please let me know I’d love to meet you IRL. Second – I’m seconding myhopejar’s comment above… It’s totally understandable for LP and or you to look back and regret spending the $$ for DE. But that’s only if you don’t need them and while I hope you don’t, you still might. Who knows, maybe you’ll have a biological child and then use the DEs! I think we’re all in agreement that if it were as simple as paying the money for guaranteed results, every one of us would be getting out the credit cards. I know I wouldn’t hesitate. I’m glad to Dr. Gratitude is giving you a new perspective and so much to think about. Trying to follow your intuition instead of anxiety does NOT sound easy. I wish you luck with it. I can’t even feel my own heart beat with both hands pressed against my chest, how am I supposed to know if a feeling is emanating from my belly or chest? Yeeesh.

    • That last part made me laugh – thank you!! I’d love to meet you IRL as well and would surely let you know if we head out to meet Braverman (I finally got the paperwork I need to complete and pay gobs of cash before he’ll even talk to me – my gut is saying “noooooooo!” to that at the moment but I am booked to see my doctor who’d need to authorize release of some records next week just in case – and I have to see her because last night I got notice I’m being audited on my tax return for claiming the IVF fees and related travel last year… of course I am, why wouldn’t I be? And I need said Dr. to write a letter about that, too. Which I will have to pay for. Annoying? Umn.. let’s not even go there!

      I think I do have a sense of when things are in my gut or in my chest… most of the time. And I think or hope the trick will be to sit with any decision when I’m not sure and wait until one or the other becomes clear as the driving force. I am kind of talking out of my behind though.. I’ll keep you posted on how this experiment goes!

      Thanks as always (so much) for your support and for the laughs (even if you didn’t intend it).

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