Deuces Wild

(Top) Rufus is calmly positioned for capturing a heartbeat of 177 beats per minute at 8 weeks and 3 days. (Bottom) The seemingly irritated Reefus would barely stay still to measure a 183-beats-per-minute heart rate at 8 weeks and 3 days.

According to the original plan laid out for us in the beginning of the in-vitro fertilization process, heartbeat detection was the stop before the reproductive endocrinologist released us to a normal obstetrician. But at that surreal visit of two strong heartbeats, the doctor said he wanted to see me again. I’d been cramping a little but frequently on both sides, and even though I’d read of such discomforts, I was afraid of miscarrying (isn’t everybody?). Apparently, the hyperstimulation of all the drugs left my ovaries slightly larger than life and the source of my pain. That meant one more visit.

Seeming to grow very quickly, I was already wearing maternity pants when the next visit came around. Yet, I was nervous that the doctor would tell me he’d been wrong and I wasn’t really pregnant. But no, very quickly he found both babies with slightly larger heads with pounding heartbeats. One laid to the left, very calm and immediately detectable. That’s Rufus (though, I might have mixed up the names in a previous post. For future reference, Baby #1 is Rufus, and Baby #2 is Reefus). The nature of this kid was something like the Mr., relaxed and carefree. The second one, however, seemed not only a little shy but downright annoyed to be bothered so early in the morning. Reefus was head down and apparently wanted to stay that way. The kid turned away from the probe like you would to stay in bed when it’s time to get up — at least three times. The little arms waved up and down and the little shoulder shrugged like, “Leave me alone.” It was fascinating to watch. It looked like something I would do (read: will do tomorrow).

Despite the drama, we saw then heard both heartbeats loud and strong. I have no words for that moment. It was just wild.

That was the last time we saw them, but we get to seem them again this week — this time by external ultrasound. I’m anxious to see what attitude Reefus will have to display. Only God knows.

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Look at me, look at mee-ee-eeeeee

This is the album cover for the original "Dreamgirls," featuring Jennifer Holliday. I'm a sucker for classics even when the remake is awesome.

“I am changing …”

So, OK, the song from “Dreamgirls” doesn’t really apply beyond those first few words, but things are definitely a-changing. I’m still a day or so away from the end of my first trimester, but I am definitely larger. People tell me they can’t quite see it, while others tease me about my frontal rotundity. Getting dressed every morning is a struggle for pants that fit. If only that was the only thing different.

I honestly have no real complaints. By everything you’ve ever heard about pregnancy, I’m coasting. I don’t have morning sickness; I have “it’s time to eat again or else” sickness. I go from normal to starving Sally Struthers style about every two hours. It’s when I don’t answer that call that I get nauseated and struggle even more to find something I feel like eating. I don’t have any weird food aversions or cravings, but there are foods that make me happy. Among them — because it varies from day to day — are Honey Nut Cheerios with or without milk, vanilla milkshakes, tomatoes, pasta in alfredo sauce and baked potatoes heaping with sour cream. Those aren’t that weird, except that I prefer real milk to the vanilla soy I drink normally and have turned my nose up at the chocolate shakes I would order before. And as much as I always loved a good steak, the thought turns my stomach …

Which I’m not sleeping on. Paranoia has me off my back as well. I just turn from side to side, feeling like a fish flailing from side to side all night long. Sleeping is uncomfortable even with the body pillow. Usually, the Mr. rubs my back until I fall asleep. Then, he wakes up when I get up for potty breaks to make sure I don’t bump into anything. Sleepwalking makes a person a little clumsy. Plus, our cool high box spring bed isn’t any more because it makes getting out of it a small challenge that I suspect will only get worse.

One thing I couldn’t have anticipated at this stage is sore hips and thighs. It’s like my joints are on strike. I stiffen quickly as if it will rain any minute. Apparently, my body is already preparing to Rufus and Reefus launching pad. And sleep must be a really big part of the preparation. I’m so sleepy all the time that I feel lazy. And when I’m not sleepy, I’m just plain tired. Every day, it’s like I’m playing catch-up with my fast-moving life.

Though not by choice, I’ve had to slow down. Fortunately, so has my burping before every sentence. Its unmentionable counterpart hasn’t really; the Mr. has been really nice about it. (I have an excuse that he never had. I call it even.) Singing is a challenge, but only to make me breathe the way I should’ve been breathing all along. That’s one thing I’d like to keep doing until I just can’t; though, I’ve read that it is possible that I could sing throughout the entire baby-cooking process barring any calls for a Lyric Opera performance (not gonna happen).

Otherwise, as accepting as I’ve become of actually being pregnant, I’m approaching acceptance that I do need more food, more sleep and to keep taking my prenatal vitamin despite how it now tastes like metal. I will not concede to being more evil. I’m just too tired to be as diplomatic as I normally am. More than not, I’m really just responding to feelings that seem to get hurt a lot more often though I pretend otherwise when it involves friends. I let the tears flow, however, while listening to the NPR story about school truancy in Detroit. Odd, right?

It’s pretty clear that while I’ve got the physical stuff down, I’ve got to work on the emotional side of pregnancy.

Birthday Card from God

Meet babies-to-be Rufus and Reefus, who officially have heartbeats. We saw the hearts beating like two fluttering hummingbirds two days before my birthday. Happy birthday, indeed.

I flew to Nashville on my birthday last Friday to cover the Stellar Awards, something like the Oscars of gospel music, for work. Months ago when I arranged the trip, I was only thinking of the fun of celebrating 35 years of life — not adjusting to carrying new life along with me. The Mr. was a very helpful travel companion, but still I was exhausted and couldn’t throw myself into all of the unoffical Stellar-related activites I’d hoped to attend.

But while resting and missing a free ASCAP breakfast Saturday morning, I started praying quietly then not at all. That’s when the words of this birthday card from God came to mind.

“As insignificant as you’ve felt in your short life, I’ve always seen you. As much as you’ve prayed — sometimes more than others — I’ve always heard you. As much as I’ve done to get to this point in your life, in some cases, I let you rest on your own laurels as if it was all you. We both know that you were aware of that fact more times than you’d say aloud.

That’s why you brought your conception struggles to me in the first place, even though you armed yourself with science. Though you believed that perhaps such a blessing was only for others who lived a less “colorful” life, this blessing was always yours — yours and your husband’s.

So what you saw yesterday on the ultrasound screen is what you asked for, and because I really am able to do things that exceed abundantly above all you ask or think, including your prayer for a child, I answered as specifically as your heart desired.

You wanted twins; you got twins. Happy birthday.”

My Hannah Moment

As the story goes from I Samuel, Hannah couldn't have a child and "was in bitterness of soul, and prayed to the Lord, and wept sore." It hurt until she cried, and she cried until it hurt.

I’m really behind on the updates. I’ve just been so incredibly sleepy. Some time has gone by since then, but I did have my weeping Hannah moment in church. Ironically, though, it had nothing to do with me or anything I could’ve predicted.

Call it a divine revelation or or a alignment of coincidental thoughts — not that I don’t believe either is possible — but given that this site has been up and circulated, I might call it something different. Whatever it was led to an altar call for “a couple struggling to conceive.” I only recently posted positive pregnancy results, but I knew at time that I was and had told the people most proximate to me on a day-to-day basis. But it wasn’t widely known, particularly not by the person led to invite “a couple struggling to conceive” to the altar.

Don’t misunderstand; I fully believe in inspiration of the Holy Spirit to move a person to say or do something in a way that isn’t based on any prior knowledge. In many ways, I try to live my life with that kind of direction. But to have prior knowledge and to suggest it was revealed by God feels kind of like a carnival show gimmick. Already pregnant and fully aware of it, I didn’t go to the altar, but three women did.

At the moment, I realized that my struggle has not been for me nor has the blessing up to this point. It has been to tell the story of prayer for undeserved favor in an impossible situation, the unrelenting downright stupid-looking faith, and a glimpse of the promise (which is where I feel I am now) to somebod(ies) who feel even more hopeless that I have in the midst of all of that. That was my revelation that night.

I was skeptical of the way it went down, but I thought it was cool that the church, a black church in particular, devoted prayer time to infertility. Rather than let the method of how we got there permanently divert my attention, I directed my energy toward praying for them and just worshiping in general.

And I cried and cried some more, praying that God would show himself strong for those ladies as He has for me.

I’d wondered — with the postive pregnancy test and the ultrasound photos — whether I could still be considered part of the infertility struggle. I know how I felt when I’d read that someone had a successful interuterine insemination or in-vitro fertilization cycle: abandoned and even more like a failure. But my Hannah moment reminded me that the struggle to this point binds me to every woman on the same road.
Not to get too churchy on you, but it was one of my pastor’s sermons that kept me holding on to the idea that God would allow us to become parents. I don’t remember the title (and this tired mama is too lazy to go find her journal), but I do remember the scripture and its context — 2 Kings 3:18. After you prepare, which you’re already doing, you pray and you try to be patient, it’s a simple matter in the sight of the LORD. That’s the New King James Version. The Message translation reads: “This is easy for God to do.”

As hard as the infertility road is, rest with that idea in mind.

It is no secret what God can do …

We're breaking out the sparkling grape bubbly with wine glasses from past tastings at Williamsburg Winery, where it all began for the Mr. and I.

Because we spent all of 2011 praying and fasted twice for 21 days at a time in hopes of a baby, I’d be remiss for not actually saying that the lines we saw nearly two weeks ago showed I’m officially knocked up, preggers (even though the Mr. hates that word), with child, expecting, in the family way, or finally, pregnant.

No, I’m not beyond the first trimester, but I’ve told a close and close-casual handful of people what I know to be true based on a four-week ultrasound (way too early — the nurse’s fault, not mine) and the double-line positive pregnancy test. Further, the way I’ve felt the last several days serves as additional evidence, but I didn’t count it as definitive given all the “symptoms” prior to in-vitro fertilization that were likely imagined.

The early morning “chest cymbals” were a clue. But now I’m beyond tired especially after I find something I feel like eating. This is no -itis; this is it. (For you “Karate Kid II” fans: “This no tournament; this for real.”)

It’s official: I’m pregnant. Feel free to applaud while I close my eyes — just for a second.

Conventional wisdom and practice says to keep early pregnancy a secret at least until you’re through the first three months. I don’t think it ever occurred to me to be that clandestine about it. I mean, we’ve been trying, it’s been a struggle, I’ve enlisted support from anyone who could offer it. I’ve had people earnestly praying for us. They — I’d — want to know that God answered and what that answer was.

It would just be rude to go silent; though, I’m sure some imagined that as the reason for my most recent lulls. Nope; I was just tired. That, and I had to call a few people first. (Actually, I didn’t want people from my hometown startling my matriarchal aunt with the news when I hadn’t talked to her since before Thanksgiving.) But outside of that, I’ve been operating, breathing, sleeping (and passing gas) as a pregnant woman. As you can tell, I’m even using the p-word. (Pregnant, pregnant, pregnant. Per-regggg-nant!)

Even as I say that — and know it — fears remain that this could end at any moment. Not only does that quiet paranoia have me avoiding all fish, caffeine even chocolate, cold cuts and mushrooms (though I’ve forgotten why about the mushrooms); it also has me claiming every minute of the mini-me in the making. So even if it’s for a shorter time than I expect, I feel confident in saying that if God can do what He’s done at this point having made it so, He’ll do it again. Thus, I don’t feel compelled to hide my pregnancy until it’s “safe.”

Also, in not knowing the future — for example, what tomorrow’s latest ultrasound will bring beyond the awaited fetal heartbeat — I decided to claim every victory in this quest to have my own children. Thus, as the song says, “It is no secret what God can do” nor what He has done.

Sparkling grape juice for everybody!

Read between the lines

He wanted to know, so after I did the pregnancy test honors -- bright and early at 4 a.m. -- I woke up the Mr. to show him the results.

How long has it been? A week? I apologize for the delay, but the past several days have been one long waiting game: waiting to find a new place, waiting to get to the hotel lobby for free Internet, waiting for our approved apartment application, then waiting for movers and this week waiting for the cable guy. My computer felt completely useless without a wireless connection to the outside world.

Though I’m connected again (and free to online window shop about the world), my return to normal life is taking several twists. Not only is it a new year in a new apartment; it’s also new duties at work that essentially mean my problem child is no longer my problem.

And, apparently, I’ve gained this new habit of actually doing what my husband says.

With a small amount of arm twisting, I took the blankety-blank test, the pregnancy test that had been lingering in the bathroom cabinet of our old apartment. The Mr. knew exactly where it was in our packed waiting-to-go-on-a-truck luggage and dug it out to wave it in my face. That took away my argument that pregnancy tests are too expensive to buy one for peace of mind. And yes, this was after months of $14.95 times two or three per cycle that I wasted on tests that I knew would most likely be negative. Most of those he never knew about. Either way, I had no case except the one I’d made here.

One of my very best friends — I call her my “stick girl” among many things — gave the best motivational speech to shake me from my fear of knowing. In a random text message, she said, “You know I love you, and I usually refrain from commenting on bodily functions.You give a compelling no pee argument. But pee on the damn stick, friend.”

You have to understand that she is the Yang to my yin, i.e., the Christina to my Meredith, my person, the only person who can say crap like that and make it so endearing.

Hours after our exchange, sometime around 4 a.m. Thursday, I woke up and stumbled to the loo, did the potty dance back out to find the test in the dark and sprinkled on myself before successfully peeing on the doggone stick. It wasn’t graceful, but it was effective.

I know what the stick said, but now, I’m waiting to see what the doctor says next week.

Another reason infertility kicks rocks

This doesn't even begin to show what nine kinds of ticked off looks like. I was here -- and for good doggone reason.

I mentioned that part of my stress during the last several weeks involved work. Aside from the initial problem that had me sitting in human resources, I got wind of the fact that my “medical condition” had come up in discussions toward the need for some type of resolution. Actually, the comment — which I received through a super-reliable source — essentially alluded to my “oversensitivity, likely a result of (my) medical condition.”

I’m a lot of things, but sensitive probably isn’t at the top of the list. Incorrect characteristic aside, I was nine kinds of ticked off. Yes, nine.

I was outraged at the lack of understanding, at the blanket application of what “undergoing infertility treatments” means. I was livid at the seeming sexism that drove the conversation. The belittling of a legitimate work concern because of my “medical condition” had me seeing red.

Post-rage — even though I’m still on the same drugs progesterone and estradiol, mind you (told you it wasn’t the drugs) — I remember that anger tends to be a secondary emotion. I’m ready to admit now that more than anything, my feelings were hurt.

Understanding the value of personal authenticity to myself and others, I try to live a fairly transparent life. Despite what my writings suggest, I’m not an open book. I’m more like a library offering. Through conversation and revelation of the type of person you are, in a way you can’t explain with words, you’re filling out an application for a library card. The way you fill out the paperwork gives me insight into what version of the book you can check out. Regardless of whether you get “Goodnight, Moon,” “Charlotte’s Web,” “Are You There, God? It’s Me Margaret,” “Fight Club” or “The Sun Also Rises,” you’re still getting the real me with all my quirks.

I was a small child for my age and would get questioning looks when I’d attempt to check out library books that looked well beyond my literary capacity. Eventually, though, some librarian would decide it was OK for a 12-year-old to read John Jakes’ “North and South” and let me have the book.

That’s how I felt when I said in a meeting that the work situation needed to be in the hands of someone with the authority to deal with it. Not only was that kind of power above my pay grade, I have other things I’m focused on, I said. “For example, my husband and I are undergoing fertility treatments.” At that point, injections and ultrasounds were normal to me. I said “undergoing fertility treatments” like people say, “We’re moving” or “Our car broke down.” It is a condition of life, a normal condition of life like anything else that sucks and requires a coming to terms. After you reach the terms, it is what it is: life. And I decided the person I’d spoken to was in a position to handle that. I was wrong.

Having my life used against me felt like a sucker punch to the gut. The irony was that such a twist of words never would’ve been used to describe a woman battling her way through cancer. What is it about infertility that makes that kind of marginalization OK?

I still haven’t figured that out; I did however address what I’d heard. Despite broad deliverance from tearing people down with my words, I had not forgotten how to border on intimidating. I’m a little person; it takes a little of that sometimes. But really, it was the use of the words “illegal, if not, then unethical,” a reference to the employee handbook and prayers that began with “God, go before me …” that seemed to have an impact.

The abundance of ignorance regarding infertility perpetuates the embarrassment that many of us feel in the need to utilize advanced reproductive technology. It keeps us silent and hidden and unnecessarily distant from the support we need. To break that cycle, we’ve got one option (and I stole this from Jeff Bridges in “The Contender”). It’s simple: Don’t be embarrassed.

Pee-er Pressure (in the Mr.’s own words)

I'm comfortable with this scenario, but the Mr. needs something more.

I’m giving up my normal rant space to the Mr., who really wants — nay, needs — me to take a home pregnancy test. His offering is largely unedited — aside from those dreaded double spaces after each sentence. (Who still does that?) Nevertheless, despite promising ultrasounds and no evidence suggesting that there isn’t p-word outside of our cautious uncertainty, he wants to see a positive home test. Here’s why:  

About three and a half years ago, I had a question I really, really wanted to ask the woman I loved. Just a few simple words, but it was a monumental question. The big question. You know the one. It was the biggest question I’d ever asked her. Eventually, after a princely sum on a ring and tickets to a dinner whose taste I still can’t remember, I got my answer.

It was the answer I’d expected, hoped for, prayed for and was relieved to get. I’d seen the signs after all: She told me she loved me, moved halfway across the country for me, she laughed at my lame jokes and allowed me to experiment on her with my cooking. And rare was the day we hadn’t spent thinking of and talking about a future together. So, yeah, the signs were there. But it was the most real when she had that ring on her finger, that word of affirmation ringing in my ear. She later teased me about my nervousness, even while admitting that she wasn’t always sure that moment would ever come. Bottom line, we didn’t know till we knew.

So here we are again, where there’s a question to be answered. This time it’s not about matrimony. It’s about maternity. It isn’t about whether she’ll take my hand. It’s about whether we’ll form a band. There’re no musicians singing in the background, and instead of a diamond ring in my hand, I’ve got a cheap piece of plastic. Ain’t nothing sexy about where this stick goes and she probably won’t walk around with it on her finger (although that would make one heck of a mood ring).

(Now that I’ve conflated my proposal and a pregnancy test, my head is filled with images of how so many other questions would be more simply resolved if it could be settled with a little pee. Does she love me? Is she laughing at me or with me? Is she really mad I ate all of the cookies? Two lines for yes, one line for no.)

So, call it peer pressure. or pee-er pressure. Or just one more time where a guy’s gotta know. Sure it might be beside the point. Even a little bit anti-climactic. But, remember that Kay’s Jewelers jingle: “Every kiss begins with Kay”? Well, every pregnancy begins with pee.

Babe, all I’m saying is give pee a chance.

To pee or not to pee …


OK, so the question wasn't "to pee or not to pee." However, the real query did consider the value of seeking resolution once and for all. Aside from that, Mel Gibson's portrayal of "Hamlet" is my favorite. That other dude with the white hair creeps me out.

That is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
the fears and uncertainty behind only seeing two tiny open-air blips via ultrasound
or to take arms against a sea of doubt
and by peeing on a stick end them.

Given that this post marks the third random Shakespearean reference (the second to “Hamlet,” my second-favorite tragedy), I opted for a little creativity. Besides I’m still trying to make light of spending the holidays in the hotel because of my landlord’s poor judgment over the gas line. This was really the last straw of the property manager’s continual missteps, so rather than be indefinitely displaced, we terminated our lease and suddenly found ourselves moving — days before Christmas. It’s not that I dislike the posh concession in living arrangements; I’ve just found it hard to obsess about the validity of the p-word and whether what we saw last Tuesday really meant what the doctor said it did.

Normally, I insist on knowing the reality of a situation — straight, no chaser. But with all the work drama and then the home front catastrophe, I’ve comfortably waded in plausible deniability. I have ultrasound pictures to prove what the doctor said, no evidence of a periodic relative, and I still awake daily with the feeling of clanging of chest cymbals but nothing else to prove p-word status. Thus, I decided that this is what a little bit p-word feels like. I’ve been OK with that, figuring that in a few more days, I’ll have another ultrasound and maybe that’s when I can get excited.

It’s sad — I feel sad thinking about the fact — that infertility can be so deflating month after month of doing what they say will work, could work, or worked for someone else that if signs show that it worked for you, you doubt it still to avoid getting your hopes up. And even though it’s fun to be deliberately obtuse about whether I am or I’m not the p-word, the real reason for it is really the fear that something will go wrong. Isn’t that why people don’t say they are until they’re 12 weeks or more along?

I think I’ve secretly accepted that I am. I even believe God’s confirmation through my relationship with Him. Perhaps I’m even at a place where I can accept whatever happens even if it’s the very worst that will hurt and kick rocks all at the same time. Where I am is further than I’ve ever gotten in this process, and I don’t take it for granted. I actually count this as a blessing in itself, well in advance of the one I seek. I’ve even told a decent handful of people, in part to make it real and then to have witnesses that I was at least here in case things change. And in believing all of that, I see no need to confirm it through an at-home urine pregnancy test. A negative test would end the mild uncertainty, but it would also end the fantasy. With that risk, I’m content to wait for a fetal heartbeat.

I could do that if this were just about me. Ah, but no possibly p-word wife is an island unto herself (John Donne reference!), and the king of this island, the Mr. himself, has spoken: “You’re taking a test.”

Ay, there’s the rub.

Double, double toil and trouble …

Despite good news, I'm still wary of the other shoe dropping. And given my reaction to a series of poop storms, I should also be watching for houses.

With infertility, silence sometimes means the worst has the happened. Fortunately, that isn’t the case, but as it always happens with every two-week wait and the optimism of each cycle, struggling to conceive means waiting for the other shoe to stomp all over your baby-building parade.

Under the invisible dangling shoe that has kept me quiet for the past few days, my human chorionic gonadotropin (hcg) levels doubled and then some, according to my latest blood test. Sunday, it was 148. Tuesday, it hit 552. It took a grueling hour to find that out.

I’d stepped away from my desk to pray with the rest of the company for the family of a recently deceased coworker, and the nurse called. A little shaken from the solemn office gathering and nervous about the call, I locked myself out of my voice mail. While waiting for the systems guy to reset my password, I tried calling the doctor’s office back. Every transfer to a live person went something like this:

“Name?” My name. S-P-E-L-L-E-D O-U-T. “Date of birth?” My birthdate and year. “Who’s your doctor?” My doctor. Then silence. “Let me transfer you to the IVF nurse.”

This was all too reminiscent of my low-ovarian reserve diagnosis. No one would tell me what the number was for my anti-mullerian hormone (AMH) test. I’d ask, and then they’d refer me to someone else. Essentially, this test can help determine the number of quality eggs a person has as well as determine gauge what the response might be to in-vitro fertilization. My test results suggested that my ovarian fertility potential hovered in the low- to very-low category. My doctor mentioned the use of donor eggs very early in this infertility process. I feared he was right and coped with the possibility by ignoring him.

That’s why is so unbelievable to me that, according to today’s doctor visit, he actually used what my husband called “the p word.” Here I was thinking the Mr. was being vulgar; instead he was marveling that the doctor kept casually referring to me being pregnant. I’d had moments of wanting to jump around like Doc Brown in “Back to the Future,” yelling, “It worked; 1.21 gigowatts!” but that still seemed a little premature. Short of that temptation, I’ve held out on using the p word and instead described my blood test results in strictly clinical terms.

Today, the Mr. and I had a brief moment of acceptance of a positive outcome. Then life kicked in and my focus returned to the poop storm spinning over work and now where we live. The latter is a horrific mess that would turn anybody into a Scrooge, or in my case, the B. on a Broomstick. That’s the bad news. The good news, in addition to the news I have yet to accept, is that trouble don’t last always. Praise God, it still will be a merry Christmas and a maybe even a very special one.

Meanwhile, I’ll be on the lookout for falling shoes — and houses.