Friday, April 29, 2011

Hang in there

I know my posts over the past few weeks have been difficult to read. They've been a hard to write.

Our journey as of late has not been easy, but it is our life and I wouldn't be an honest writer if I continued to carry on about only the happy stuff.

I hope to find more balance with this blog soon by recognizing CT's milestones and funny antics while also honoring Xander's memory and mourning his death. The spectrum's are so vast that it's hard to find a happy medium, but I promise to try my best.

I pour my heart into my writing so I really appreciate hearing from you. Thank you so much to those of you that have commented recently. Knowing that you're reading is what drives me to continue writing.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

NIAW Question Answered

In keeping with the NIAW theme, below is an Q&A for one inquiry that I received.

Q: Has adoption ever entered the conversation?

A: The short answer is Yes. However, we will not be actively pursuing adoption any time soon if ever.

We talked about adoption before I got pregnant with CT. It was one of the many family building options we were faced with. Adoption is not a resolution to infertility, it is an option for family building. At that time we decided that we wanted to try as much as possible to have a biological child.

Now that we've dealt (are dealing) with a pre-term loss, adding to our family and how we do so must be carefully considered. I have read a fair share of adoption blogs. Some of the things you'll read here were found during my research and reflection on the topic of adoption.

Adoption is not a decision to be taken lightly. There are still hurdles in the grief process we'd need to surpass before proceeding with adoption. I'd have to grieve the loss never being pregnant again and and the loss of not having another biological child. It would be incredibly unfair for us to adopt if we haven't prepared ourselves for it beforehand by going through the stages of grief. It would be unfair to not only to us, CT and Xander but also to the child that we would adopt. We MAY never be able to fully attach to that child because we would always be wishing it had your eyes or nose or hair or laugh. So, as you can see, people in our shoes cannot simply just adopt. We'd have to be ready and willing and 100% invested in order to adopt.

We'd have to take classes, put our entire life on paper and open ourselves up for someone else to decide if we are suitable to be a parent.

Adoptive parents must complete a home study which includes home visits, interviews and extensive background checks which are required by both the state and their adoption agency. There is also no crystal ball in adoption that can predict the amount of time the process will take. The matching process can be lengthy, and the entire process can take years.

There are expensive ways, and there are less expensive ways, but in adoption, much like pregnancy, there are no guarantees. I've read that adoption, whether it be domestic or international, can cost upwards of $30,000. As you can see, it is not a decision that should be taken lightly.

We are open to adoption, but by telling us we can "always just adopt" is not only dismissive to the struggles we've endured, but it is insulting to those who have been through the adoption process. Adoption is an option I have always known was an option, but I also know I have time to pursue it because adoption doesn't depend on the age and health of my eggs, my uterus, or my body. I am focusing on one thing at a time, and right now I am not quite ready to give up the hope of being able to carry another baby to term. Possibly the saddest part of infertility and pregnancy loss is to give up these dreams, one at a time, as they no longer become attainable.

At this point, adoption is not on the table. That doesn't mean that it never will be. It means that we recognize there are steps we would need to take to get there. We'd need to grieve Xander's death and get more answers about what happened and if we should try for another baby or not.

Monday, April 25, 2011

NIAW: April 24 - 30

In honor of National Infertility Awareness Week, Resolve's suggestion for generating awareness is to Bust a Myth about infertility.

Although I know more about infertility than I care to admit, I couldn't settle on one topic to write about.

I've decided to write about why we kept our infertility struggle a secret.

As you can imagine, infertility is a very personal topic. Admitting that you're infertile is sort of like admitting that you have a wart on your foot. Except multiply that by ten. Who wants to admit that they have it? It's there and you can hide it for a really long time, but eventually you wonder if other people will notice. Then it becomes this thing that needs to be dealt with.

There wasn't ever a defining moment when we decided to not talk openly about our infertility. We had been trying for a while with the anticipation that it would be a big surprise once we revealed that we were expecting a baby. As the months passed it became apparent that it may not happen as quickly as we thought. I was not a stranger to infertility. I had friends who had trouble conceiving, but until we experienced it for ourselves I had no idea what we were in store for.

In school as children we are taught about the reproductive system and that once we (girls) start menstruating that we 'will' get pregnant if we have unprotected sex. We were even told (scared into thinking) that we can get pregnant while we have our period. Which is nearly impossible. We are taught the basics. We were taught what a textbook cycle is - Day 1 you get your period. 14 days later you ovulate. 14 days after that you get your period again. While a textbook cycle is true for many women, it is not uncommon for a women's cycle to be shorter than 28 days or longer than 30 days. I do agree that children should be educated this way, I also think as we become adults there should be more discussion with doctors, friends and family about the things that could complicate getting pregnant. Cycle length is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to infertility. There are many medical conditions that can lead to infertility in a woman. PCOS, endometriosis, luteal phase defect, and recurrent loss to name a few of the common causes. One in five infertility cases are undiagnosable.

Likewise one of the old school misconceptions about infertility is that there is something wrong with the woman. 30% of diagnosed infertility cases are due to male factor infertility. Some of the causes being low hormone levels and sperm production disorders.

We dealt with a couple of the causes I mentioned above. We went from one doctor telling us that we'd only need a little assistance conceiving. While another doctor said our best chance at conceiving would be to go directly to IVF. Imagine for a second being pulled in two completely different directions and being faced with how to attempt to start a family. The time, financial and emotional aspects were exhausting.

Procreation is one of the most natural instincts we have. Men are genetically built to 'spread their seed' and ensure their genetics get passed on. Women have a natural nurturing instinct. While there are those who choose not to have children, many believe that having children is the next natural step.

When that next natural step isn't as natural as we were once taught, it left us feeling like we were doing something wrong or that we were being punished for some reason.

Infertility is a medical condition. It is nothing to be ashamed of, yet is such a personal matter that talking about it openly was not natural for us. Sharing our personal experiences about the invasive procedures I had to endure and the numerous semen analysis' that Christos had to do is not something we wanted to share month after month. The thought of sharing yet another negative cycle with anyone was another reminder that we were still not pregnant. So we continued to keep it to ourselves and seek out comfort and knowledge from others who had experienced it.

After struggling to get pregnant the first time (with CT) and now after the losing Xander, I am more confident and comfortable with talking about our journey. None of it is ever easy to talk about. Don't you ever wonder about public figures who hint that they've had trouble but they never really come out and talk about how truly difficult and heart wrenching it can be to start a family? As role models I wish they would speak up to help raise awareness for the ALI (Adoption/Loss/Infertility) community, however I can totally relate to their wishes to keep it private.

In an effort to Bust a Myth or answer any curiosities, I welcome (urge) you to speak up. Allow me to help you understand a little bit more about infertility and the challenges many want-to-be-parents face. Please leave a question in the comments section here or if you prefer to remain anonymous you can send me an email with your question. When (if) I get any questions, I will write another post with the answers to hopefully inform you even more.

I hope that during this week you keep everyone who is struggling to become a parent in your thoughts and prayers. If you want more information, I encourage you to visit Resolve.

"Parenthood doesn't erase (infertility) - it's a new creation that is built on a blank space on the heart, not a new creation rewriting everything that came before it." ~Melissa Ford

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Memorial - Month One - April 21st, 2011

In honor of the one month anniversary of Xander's birth, I have something very beautiful to share with you.

In August 2008, the Dudley family in Perth, Western Australia started a project called "To Write Their Names In The Sand" to memorialize their son Christian who was born still 19 months prior.

To date they have written the names of over 10,000 children who passed too soon. What an AWESOME way to honor their son!

Xander now has is own little slice of their Heaven on Earth. Grab a box of tissue and click here. Make sure you come back here when you're done.

Isn't it beautiful and full of all sorts of awesomeness?!?! I put Xander's name on the waiting list last week and today the photographer Carly Marie posted it. I have been so excited to see it and share it with you.

I have spent endless hours reading and crying while looking through all the children's names written in the sand. It has touched me in a way I never thought possible. Seeing Xander's name in such a beautiful place, written and photographed by someone who does not know us but knows how much we've lost is such a powerful emotion.

I will treasure this photo for the rest of my life. It is one of the few we have to remember him by. It will be a constant reminder that he was real and that we are not alone. He is with the children who have gone before him and he will be there to welcome those that arrive after.

It brings me so much peace knowing that someone selflessly inscribed Xander's name in such a beautiful place on Earth.

What a gift!

Who knows....Maybe we'll get to visit Christian's beach some day.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Life after Xander

It's been over three weeks since we returned home without Xander. Three weeks since the funeral home picked up his body to be cremated. It all seems a blur yet there are moments that will be with me forever.

After Xander was born, the doctor wrapped him in a blanket and put him in my arms. He was so tiny. 3 1/2 ounces. 8 inches long. The size of a beanie baby.

During the time that he was with us we cried. We prayed with him. We sang to him and then we cried some more.

It is said that a birth before 20 weeks gestation is considered a late miscarriage. I never really knew where I stood on the topic. Yes, a baby is a baby from the moment it is conceived, but until it reaches viability (23 weeks gestation) it has no chance of survival outside the womb. After holding in my arms my dear son born at 16 weeks, there is no question in my mind that he was a baby and this wasn't a miscarriage. I labored with him for 30 hours and then I gave birth to him. He had a perfect head. Long arms and legs. Eyes. Ears. A perfect little nose. Gorgeous lips just like his big brother. But what really convinced me were his fingernails. It is a miracle how much he grew inside me in those four short months. He was a baby.

My nurse tried to take his hand and foot prints. She wanted to get it just right for us. She kept trying over and over. Bless her heart. Even after she took him that night she attempted again and the next morning sent us home with a few of his prints. We will cherish them. As well as the blanket he was wrapped in. It is still stained with his blood and we keep it close.

There is little we have to remember him by. We took some pictures. But mostly, we only have a memory. A memory of a little boy we will never know. A memory of a dream that we so badly wanted. When the doctor handed him to me and I held him close to my chest we learned that Xander was a boy. My heart ached. It still does. It aches for a little boy who would have had an awesome older brother. In that moment my heart ached for CT and what he had lost, even though he won't understand for many years. I wanted another baby more for him as much as I did for me (and Christos)….maybe even more for him.

We cried so hard during my stay in the hospital. Since returning home the tears have decreased. We left most of our sadness there. Now I cry for what should have been. I should still be pregnant. We should be bringing home a healthy baby boy at the end of the summer. Our family should be complete.

Instead our son's ashes sit in an urn on our mantel.

Many times a day we give thanks for the healthy boy we have here at home with us. If not for CT, Xander's death would have been unbearable. CT has been major distraction for us upon returning home. Although it is a challenge raising a 21 month old, it is such a privilege and honor to have him in our life. After battling infertility and now the loss of our second son, we don't take one second for granted.

The days are starting to pass a little bit quicker now. Three weeks ago we came home without our son and made preparations for his cremation. The post-delivery blood has stopped and my milk has finally dried up.

Our house has been flooded with flowers and cards from loved ones. It brings us so much comfort that people have shown their support for our loss, but also the acknowledgement that Xander is our son. We have every intention of spending the rest of our lives honoring his memory.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Story of Xander

It started Wednesday March 9th when Christos, CT and I were on a mini-vacation to the water park in Duluth. CT LOVED the waterpark. We had an awesome day together. When we sat down to dinner that evening I felt a gush of warmth and knew something wasn't right. I had started to bleed. Dark red blood. "Oh Shit. This is not good." We spent the next 3 hours in an out-of-town emergency room. I thought for sure we had lost our little one. An ultrasound proved that the baby was fine, but the ER doctor couldn't determine where the bleeding was coming from. Upon doing a pelvic exam he was very concerned and suggested I see my doctor in the next day or two. We packed up and headed home the next day. During that time the bleeding stopped.

The following morning (Friday) I was able to get in for an ultrasound with my regular Ob clinic. They determined that I had placenta previa. Scary. But at least the baby was okay. I was put on limited activity and spent the next week being very cautious. Although I did return to the office for work, I couldn't lift CT or do some of my other regular activities. I should preface this by saying that since week ~11 I'd had extreme pelvic and pubic pain. Similar to what I experienced with CT during my last trimester. This was supposedly because the baby implanted low in my uterus so all the weight was really low.

The following Friday (3/18) I had a previously scheduled appointment with the high risk perinatal clinic to transfer my care under them. I was high risk because of my congenital heart defect. And obviously the previa kept me high risk. When I entered the ultrasound room I warned the sonographer that I had been diagnosed with having placenta previa the week prior. It was almost as she laughed it off while saying "You know 50% of pregnancies at this stage have placenta previa...?" No, I did not know that. We had a great ultrasound and the little baby (gender still unknown at this point) was active and healthy and she even confirmed that the previa had already resolved itself. This was the best possible outcome after a week of anxiety and caution!! My meeting with the perinatologist went just as smooth. It was a casual conversation that left me feeling so much better and calm about the pregnancy.

On Sunday afternoon (3/20) while attending a baby shower for a friend everything came crashing down.

I was uncomfortable during her gift opening. I thought it was gas. When really it was, um labor. When I got up to leave I felt the bleed start again. By the time I drove myself home I knew something was really wrong. I got out of the car and told Christos something wasn't right. The blood. Oh the blood.

We went straight to the emergency room where we learned there was no heartbeat. Sometime between my ultrasound on Friday and Sunday afternoon, Xander's heart had stopped beating. Placental abruption was the reason we were given. A blot clot caused the placenta to pull away from my uterine wall and Xander was no longer getting what he needed to survive. He died in my womb. The womb meant to keep him safe.

After the first of many uncomfortable pelvic checks, the doctor on duty informed me that it probably wouldn't be long before the baby would be born. I was shuffled into a L&D room and greeted by the nurse that would care for me the majority of my stay. Nurses are the angels of medicine. I wasn't scared. I was sad as hell. My baby was already dead and I knew that in a short period of time I would be faced with bringing him into this world. I'd seen other loss blogs of premature birth. I knew what to expect for a 16 week baby. But that didn't make the hurt any easier. Christos and I were a mess.

My sister came to pick up CT while we called our parents and Christos' sister to join us at the hospital. The contractions continued off and onfor hours. My nurse kept telling me to let her know when I felt the urge to push. The only time I felt the urge was when I had to pee.

We waited. They took blood for testing and started pain meds.

We waited some more while I continued to bleed. We waited some more and nursing shifts changed.

We waited into the next day. Doctors and nurse coming and going.

At some point during Monday morning I got up to urinate and I felt something in the birth canal ready to come out. I told the nurse "I'm not having this baby in the toilet." So we shuffled back to bed and she told the doctor I was ready. I delivered my bag of water but my uterus hadn't contracted enough to allow Xander to pass through. A 16 week uterus is thick and not ready to contract for many more months. So it took time for my body to realize what it needed to do.

We waited and grieved some more. We talked about everything leading up to that point and what would need to be done after the baby was born. We talked names. We talked cremation. And we waited.

Monday afternoon we sent our families home to get some rest. They'd slept in the waiting room the night prior. I kept receiving pain meds to make me comfortable and meds to help my uterus contract. The best case scenario the doctor wanted was for the placenta and baby to deliver at the same time to avoid a D&C. Considering the circumstances, I guess that would be the best case scenario. By mid-afternoon my IV had backed up and my nurse flushed it out. An hours worth of pain meds were pushed into my system. I was instantly drugged up and the room was in a tailspin. I then slept for a few hours.

After another few doses of the drug meant to help my uterus contract, we discovered that I hadn't contracted since I woke up from my nap. The doctor found this odd so he decided to do another ultrasound which revealed a very full bladder and an empty uterus. The baby had moved down to the birth canal while I rested and relaxed and all I needed to do was deliver him. It took the doctor and nurse 15 minutes to empty my bladder with a tiny catheter. There was so much pressure from my bladder that Xander would have a hard time coming down. When it was time to push, I felt like I had nothing in me. Nothing to push.

I clearly recall during the delivery that I was pissed as hell. I didn't cry. I had cried so much already. Christos kept dabbing my forehead as though I were sweating. I told him (not-so-nicely) that I wasn't sweating. I was so angry that we were in that situation. Angry that we had to wait 30 hours after learning of his death to hold him. One of my nurses mentioned that the waiting could have been a way for us to mentally prepare ourselves for what was to come. It didn't make it suck any less, but I think she was right. It gave us time to grieve. Cry. Hard. Harder than we've ever cried in our life.

The doctor did his best to bring Xander's delicate tiny body into the world in one piece. The delivery was uncomfortable and hard, but he was beautiful and peaceful when he was born.

To be continued. I will write more about the time we spent with Xander and how life has been since returning home. Without him.