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.