Coping strategies – or lack of.

Last night wasn’t the first night I cried myself to sleep – though this is one of the few times I’ve admitted to it (silly isn’t it, feeling embarrassed about giving into tears). Sleep is proving more difficult than normal, which automatically lowers my coping abilities. Needless to say, today was it was a very tired me, trying to stay awake through Uni classes and attempt to interact with people normally.

Besides this lack of coping….all my normal coping strategies don’t seem to be of any help. Normally I like escaping into a trashy novel – I’m finding that most of them have the ability to make me cry (not really what I want when catching the train to town) or I’m not really that interested in someone else story. I’m even less interested in the magazine I normally like browsing – don’t really want to know how well someone else life is going! The reality is, I just don’t really care about anything at the moment.

Walking, gives too much time for thinking (and we all know how bad that can be!), colouring in can be the same. Having a nice coffee in a cafe, generally results in seeing babies and families, so I just feel sad again. Sunshine doesn’t seem to make its way into my heart & uplift me anymore – -if anything it causes some dissonance as I feel my mood should match the sunshine but it doesn’t.

So I look for distractions, keeping busy, unfortunately while I have lots of study I should do, I’m struggling to concentrate on it – it’s so easy to think of everything you shouldn’t dwell on while trying to read about everything I’m supposed to be learning.

But when it comes to bedtime (which I find myself delaying most nights) there aren’t any distractions, I can’t turn my brain off, and there’s no hiding from the pain.
Tell me, what are your most effective coping strategies? Maybe you can help me find some new ones xo

The Imaginary World in my Head.

{CW: miscarriage}

From quite a young age I’ve had a habit of imaging an alternative life, making things I really wanted to have happen, happen. If I was having trouble getting to sleep, or we were on long road trips etc, I played out scenes in my head – these scenes always felt pretty real. When you’re going through something as future based as IVF, you end up living in this world too – you need to keep imagining why it is you’re going through what you’re going through and your life’s on hold waiting for that life you’ve imagined, so if you’ve got a good imagination, it can feel like this imaginary world in your head is real.

The day before our last transfer, a good friend told me she was pregnant. That came with the usual avalanche of feels, happy for her, sad for me etc but I managed to not cry til I got home! But then we had transfer, and while waiting for pregnancy test day I imagined telling her I was pregnant too – she’d made a comment about none of her friends having babies at the moment (all our mutual friends had kids already), so I was looking forward to letting her know she had someone to be pregnant with. And then we got a BFP.

Finding out you’re pregnant, after so many negatives and losses, is as terrifying as it is amazing. Every bodily sensation is analysed in great detail, thousands of times over. And underlying all this, is a high level of anxiety. As part of my way of coping, I wanted to try and enjoy my pregnancy for as long as it lasted. Yes, this sounds a bit pessimistic, but when you’ve had your innocence and naivety about pregnancy stolen by loss, you’re all too aware that there’s a lot of things to get through before you’ll hold that baby in your arms. So this time we let ourselves dream, we tried to hold on to the excitement and hope when ever we could grasp it in amongst the anxiety. I let myself imagine being pregnant with my friend, I saw us going shopping together to get things for our babies, sharing, comparing & supporting each other through our pregnancy. I imagined us spending time together once the babies were born, going for walks, having coffee, messaging in the middle of the night when we were both up feeding. I imagined our babies growing up together, playing at the playground together, maybe even having family holidays together. Imagined our babies being friends like we were. All this, a whole other, future life – in my head. I hadn’t even told her we were pregnant yet.

Our scan date was booked, where we’d see our babies heartbeat and then we’d ‘graduate’ from the clinic, let out into the world to choose a midwife or obstetrician and be pregnant rather than having fertility treatment. I made a coffee date with my friend, for the day after the scan. I was planning on telling her then. Our blood tests results were still doing well, so I dared to dream we’d make it to the scan all ok, and then I’d see my friend the next day and tell her, and share with her all these dreams I’d had. We’d hug and talk and plan for our babies future. My imagined world was close to becoming my real world.

And then we went to the scan, and my world, imagined & real, fell apart. There was no heartbeat, there was no baby. We had a blighted ovum. I cancelled that coffee date. I needed to stay in my survival bubble with my husband.

We haven’t seen each other much since then. I’ve had to protect myself a bit. Because, not through any fault of her own, she’s a reminder – a reminder of how pregnant I should have been. I miss our friendship, but it will never be the same again, not that its over, it’s just different. There will always be a reminder of what might have been.

Today we had a bit of a chat via text messages. It was the first since her baby had been born. Her baby was barely even mentioned, but just the contact with her gave me flashbacks. Scenes from my imagined world, flashed into my brain, each one followed by the painful memory that that will never be. In the moments between messages I’d imagine her at home with this baby I’ve never met, but who was going to part of my babies world, doing her thing, learning to be a mum, and I’d remember I should have been not far off having that myself.

That imaginary world was all well and good for helping manage my anxiety when I was pregnant, but it was so real and I miss it so.

Anniversaries

This week is our wedding anniversary. Even before we started TTC we’ve always celebrated anniversaries, Valentine’s Days, even half year anniversaries on occasion. But once we started fertility treatment, it became even more important for us – part of celebrating the little things along the way. It was also a good way of reminding ourselves that our relationship is our top priority, above everything else going on in our lives.

The thing is, we started fertility treatment one week after our wedding. So it feels like our whole marriage has been overshadowed by hormone drugs, emotional rollercoasters & disappointments. We also had a bunch of other stressful situations with deaths, family health scares & big changes with both our jobs. It would be easy to say this marriage business wasn’t such fun, but we’ve both kept good sight of the fact we’re dealing with something bigger & seperate to the marriage itself. 

I’ve had people say over the years how lucky I am to have such a loving marriage, and maybe there is an element of luck, but mostly it’s a lot of hard – good & worthwhile, but hard – work. We’ve both had to consciously choose love, & choose each other over and over. That can be hard enough when just dealing with normal, day to day stresses – but throwing in all the IVF stress takes things to a whole other level. I experienced a lot of side effects from the drugs – physically & emotionally – and I wasn’t always (often) a nice person to be around. It takes a lot of strength to keep loving someone when they’re not being so loveable – thankfully, my husband is good at loving me, even when I’m struggling to love myself (which lets be honest, is most of the time at the moment).

We were looking through our wedding photos recently & reminiscing. It was such a fun & happy day. With all the loss & disappointment we’ve experienced since then, it feels like our wedding day was the last time I was truely happy. 

So celebrating this anniversary is a mixed bag. On one hand it’s hard to seperate our wedding anniversary from all the tough stuff we’ve been through, but on the other hand I’m super grateful that inspite of, or maybe because of, all the hard shit, we still have a great marriage full of love, kindness & support…….and that, I think, is totally worth celebrating.

Home (not so) Sweet Home

{Content Warning: Miscarriage}

We bought out current house about the time we started TTC – for me at least, this place had the things I wanted for a family home, and is in quite a family friendly neighbourhood. We always had a dream of moving to another suburb, preferably before the kids went to school, because of the community feel there, close to friends & it was a school we’d have liked our kids to be at. But we were realistic that we might not get there quite in time for them starting school due to finances. Then as it took more time to get pregnant I started adjusting my plans…maybe they’d start at the school closer to us and then could move later when we could afford to move. This was ok, I could cope with adjusting our dream – didn’t really matter exactly where we lived if we had kids, as long as we had a happy family…..

Of course the longer we stayed here, the more memories this house holds. Sometimes I’ll go to the toilet & have flashbacks to our first miscarriage…no one warned me how (physically) traumatic that could be!  The couch holds many tears, and has been my recovery space post medical procedures, where I’ve curled up with a book & chocolate trying to forget the phone call received earlier. The desk I study at is where I was when I got the call with our first actually positive test, its also where I was when I got the call in our 2nd pregnancy to say my HCG levels were still rising & so the bleeding was just normal early pregnancy bleeding. The garden is where our niblings have played together, & I’ve imagined our children running there with their cousins in the future. The apple tree was planted with the idea of kids being able to pick apples straight from the tree…….everywhere something reminds me of the struggles we’ve been through & the futures we’ve dreamed of.

As part of a ‘what ever happens’ plan, we’d started talking about moving (house prices have changed, so we’re in a position that should allow us to get a slightly more expensive house) and now that we’re facing a life without children, I really need a new start. Somewhere that doesn’t have all the memories and hopes stored in it. But of course, nothing much excites me at the moment so where to move to? We keep looking at the suburb we’d always planned to move to – it’s a lovely little community near the beach, one of my closest friend lives there & we have some family there. But the problem with a village like community – it’s family focused. I can’t figure out if being part of a community like this will rub in the fact we don’t have children more, or if the community will take us in, help me feel less lonely & therefore be somewhat healing? But also just moving to another house in another suburb, wouldn’t really be changing our lives, just our location. If we’re able to buy somewhere cheaper, gain some financial freedom then we’d be able to do more fun things to help distract us & create a new life. But I also wonder if we should be looking for something very different – such as an apartment, in a less family focussed neighbourhood.

They say you shouldn’t make big decisions while you’re grieving, but what do you do when you need to make a decision to help cope with the grieving? To create a new beginning?

Do You Believe In Miracles?

In the infertility community we often hope for each other get miracles – so we can defy the odds, or not need to the next step of investigation or treatment, or just so we can get rid of each others pain as much as we can.

And I think deep down (or not so deep) we all hope we might be one of the lucky recipients of a miracle.

Sometime during our second year of treatment, I think between our 4th & 5th FET (I could look the specifics up, but I don’t really want to go reading through that file just now!), we had a cycle cancelled due to what looked like a cyst. But further scans made the Dr suspicious it was a hydrosalpinx – fluid in the Fallopian tubes. This can bad for getting pregnant, as the fluid is generally toxic, left over from an infection, and it can dribble into the uterus and prevent implantation etc. So surgery was scheduled, to remove the affected tube & probably the other tube too (if you have it in one it can be likely the other will have it too, or get it soon), as it made sense while they were in there and potentially prevent a 3rd surgery later. On the one hand this was hopeful, but on the other it was terrifying. In some ways this seemed like the simple answer – obviously this must be the issue that was preventing our success, my tubes were so badly damaged we needed IVF anyway, so better to get rid of something that was hindering rather than helping right? But at the same time, removing both tubes stole any hope (however minuscule) or us getting a miracle.

Obviously, there were lots of feels to deal with about this – most of which I suspect I probably haven’t fully dealt with. Knowing you physically can not get pregnant without the help of specialists is a really hard hand to be dealt.

But despite all this, logically knowing there is no way I could get a miracle now, sometimes my brain makes up stories. Like this week, with the arrival of my period, but a period thats being all weird & different & not like what I’ve experienced in the past. Despite the fact this isn’t my first period after our last IVF cycle, & despite all other manner of logistically impossible things. Still, my brain & heart cling tightly to what will never be, hoping that somehow some way, maybe I’ll have defied science.

Of course after my brain suggesting stories like this comes the sudden fall back into crushing reality.

Hoping for Hope

Yesterday I met with a lady about possibly setting up a support group for people facing a life without children after fertility treatment. She’s lovely, and I was mostly able to talk very matter of factly about what we’ve both been through. Outwardly, I was doing what I seem to do well – putting on a brave face & faking it.

Inwardly, it was a whole other story. It was like when you cling to the top of a waterslide, trying to prevent gravity & the power of the water doing its things, clingy desperately, but all the while knowing you’re eventually  going to have to let go. At the same time, silently screaming “Nooo, don’t let me in, I don’t want to part of your group, let me go back to the days I had hope (however slight), let me just be between cycles, waiting for next Day 1 to get started again.”

No reflection on the lovely lady at all, I’ll have to join her eventually, my heart is just digging itself in for now, still ever hopeful that it’ll wake up and find it’s all just been a bad dream.

I just want to hold on to hope again.

‘Dem Feels

This week hasn’t been a great week. I had grand plans of being productive, eating healthy and exercising lots. In reality it came down to survival. I figured if I ate something it was a start, I tried to have some healthy food rather than a perfect diet. I aimed for some movement each day, rather than reaching my step goal every day. And counted those things as my productivity for each day.

It was the first whole week on my own, with Mr away – and with nothing specific planned. This is hard for me, as when I’m not feeling great, my tendency is to climb under a rock and hide there from the world – rather than reaching out to people which is probably what I actually need to do. So I found myself going out for coffee each day – it meant I was around people so felt less alone, but actually didn’t need to interact with anyone, which I didn’t have the energy for. Except those sales assistants hanging out by the shop entrance waiting to pounce. Can’t they tell I’m not in a chatty mood? I felt like I had a neon sign saying “steer clear” such was my mood, but maybe I actually did need the sign!

Not being in any routine, also meant I didn’t have any good self-care plans in place. I went to bed a bit late because I was distracting myself with TV, then it’d take ages to get to sleep because my brain was going over time or I was crying, so then it was really hard to get out of bed in the morning. I’d hit snooze, or reset the alarm, then I’d faff about on the Internet, then when I finally got up, I’d intersperse putting my contacts in and getting dressed with checking social media again (& again), then if I dragged myself out for a walk I found I couldn’t make myself walk very fast, & then walking would give me too much thinking time so I’d make the walk short. And then because I wasn’t sleeping well, I was having more coffee & carbs to get me through the day (cheese scone anyone?), and finding excuses to get sugary treats. Which probably wasn’t helping me sleep any better either. Vicious cycle much?

To top things off I also got a cold, quite likely I’m run down from all the stress and coming off all the hormone drugs. Also its the week before AF is due – I often get a cold or coldsores then, such fun. I realised I’d stopped taking my multivitamin when our cycle ended…so that possibly wasn’t helping. Thought I’d start again…of course the only fricken multivitamin in the cupboard is the Elivit one – damn pregnancy supplements!

My friend also had her baby at the beginning of the week. I’m not up for visiting yet, but I thought I’d make her a gift – turns out sewing a gift for someone else’s baby that was due 6weeks before your own is really bloody hard on your heart!

So tonight, I’m heading out for cocktails with some girlfriends – hopefully that will help me find some more positive feels than all the others I’ve had this week!

*PS I must say, thank you so much to all of you who have read, liked & commented on my blog so far. It helps me to feel like I have done something this week by seeing I’m not just talking to myself xo

Feelings of Failure

Recently I mentioned to a few different people how this whole situation leaves me feeling like such a failure. They all responded along the lines of “but you know you’re not, don’t you?”. And thats the catch. Sure I can logically accept that I’m not failing at Uni (I don’t quite know how I’m getting good grades but I am!), I can bake things and make things and successfully carry out tasks etc – so I guess on those standards I’m not a failure. But I still feel like one, and having people respond quickly with “but you’re not”, instead of helping reduce those feelings, ends up devaluing my experience….which then leaves me feeling like I’m failing at feeling correctly too!

The thing with infertility and going through IVF is, it eats away at your self esteem, slowly and insidiously. And piles on disappointment after disappointment. So I’m not just feeling one failure – the dramatic end to our last cycle, or the fact that I now know I won’t have children. Its an accumulation of failures. It started about 5 years ago when the surgeon told us we’d need to through IVF to get children. Then was added to…Chemical pregnancies, Miscarriages, Negative results, cancelled cycles, need for more surgery, dropping egg reserves etc etc. And in amongst all of that you question yourself…what could I have done differently, what did I do wrong, how can I fix it? And it all just becomes one big Head F@$k.

Current society raises us with idea that if you work hard at something you’ll achieve your goal. And good things happen to good people. (I’m a sociology student, you’ll have to accept my sociological reckons LOL). These are so prevalent that they’re ingrained in us from a young age. Which makes it really hard to accept that sometimes no matter how hard you try, and everything you do, you might just miss out on getting the ending your hearts been set on. And as for the concept that good things happen to good people – well, we all know thats a load of crock don’t we….the number of wonderful people who do lots from their community who get hit with illness, death or misfortune etc shows that that’s just not the case. Sometimes bad sh!t just happens.

So somehow in amongst everything else I need to process, I need to find a way to learn to believe that I’m actually not a failure.

How are you doing?

Sometimes I get asked this question. Contrarily, I’m glad I’m not asked it more often, as I never quite know how to answer it, but actually I’d like to be asked it more so I knew people hadn’t forgotten that life pretty shitty right now. Infertility can be a pretty lonely experience (that will be a whole other post!), so having people check in every so often, and acknowledge things are tough can go a long way to helping you feel supported.

I’m still trying different ways of answering – I want to be more honest so people know what its like, and because its hard putting on a brave face. But sometimes the timing or situation isn’t right for being honest. Sometimes I just shrug, make a funny face & brush it off. If its a question in a text message or email I might even ignore it – mostly because its more complicated than can always be put down in writing, or in a short few words. My common answers are that I’m surviving, or that I’m still breathing – because lets face it, getting to the end of the day still breathing is a pretty good win some days! I try not to fob the question off with “I’m ok” because I don’t feel ok and I don’t want to minimise my situation. And also, I’ve got so good at faking it and doing what needs to be done, that from the outside its really easy to assume I’m actually coping alright.

I think its because I have an ingrained habit to follow the rules, I’m big on making sure I do what I’ve said I’ll do. So if I need to attend a meeting for a charity I’m involved in, I’ll turn up, do what needs to be done, but it’ll take a lot of energy so when I’m home I’ll find I’m really tired, or peopled out more quickly than usual. Or like last year, I managed to keep up with my studies, and maintain my grades, even while going through fertility treatment and dealing with a miscarriage.

The problem with this is everyone else gets used to me being strong, and keeping on keeping on, they don’t realise how hard things actually are for me, or how much energy it actually takes to do so. From the outside it looks like I’m functioning fine – combined with the fact I’m pretty quick to support others, I think a lot of my friends and family forget that actually I might need some support myself.

My husband notices sometimes, and this is one of the things about the infertility rollercoaster that’s been hard for him. I put on a brave face, chat, smile, interact etc when we’re out with other people – but when its back to just being the two of us, I’m quiet and withdrawn. I’m all out of interaction energy, so he misses out on the fun/nice me, and gets the quiet, tired, snappy me – because he’s the one I’m most comfortable to be myself around. But it is a bit rough for him, missing out on the nice me.

I also do such a good job that it confuses myself -the stories you hear of people struggling to cope, generally are about people unable to get out of bed, or not able to carry out daily tasks, cutting themselves off from people etc. So in my mind I get this internal conflict – I’m still doing everything I’m supposed to be doing so I must be ok….but emotionally I don’t feel ok, and I really do just feel like I’m going through the motions – because actually I don’t know how to do anything else.

And so I start to think I’m doing ok….and then I notice some little things, which on their own, would just be something silly that happened, but when you add them all together, you realise they’re the signs of grief. Like the other morning when I was getting dressed to go for a walk and I forgot to put my bra on. Doesn’t seem much, but I am someone that never leaves the house without a bra, in fact I don’t even hang around the house without one! Or the couple of times I forgot to take my contact lenses out before bed – I’ve worn contacts for about 16yrs now…taking them out is just part of the routine of brushing my teeth and washing my face, so forgetting that is out of the ordinary for me. Or like the other day, when instead of going to put something back in the fridge, I started to put it in the liquor cupboard instead…..or the number of times I’ve walked into things, or banged my head on things, because my judgement just isn’t up to speed at the moment. Little tiny things, that no one else will notice, but actually show my brain can’t cope with everything I’m expecting it to keep up with.

So how are you doing? How do you answer this question?

Four Weeks Past

Today it’s four weeks past THAT day, the day we got the news that our hope of having children was over. Four weeks since the phone call that told me we’d had a ‘failed fertilisation’. That out of the 7eggs collected the day before, from our 6th and final IVF cycle, none, nada, zilch, zero, zip, had become embryos. It felt like the cycle was over before it even started – all hope stolen in a blink of an eye, & no explanation for it.

I started journalling two weeks after, on the off chance I might start this blog. So today I’ll share my first journal entry – its the closest I’ve got for you of what it was like in those first few days. And in all honesty I don’t think my feelings or my coping have changed an awful lot in that time.

Finding out none of our eggs had fertilised in our 6th & final IVF cycle, was devastating to say the least. It would have been bad enough to have gone through a transfer and got another Big Fat Negative (BFN), but this way, feels like we’ve been cheated so much. Such a final & sudden end to our cycle, stealing the last of our hope. Of course, my husband was at work* when I found out, meaning yet again, I had to find someway to hold myself together – very precariously together mind you – and only because I had some adulting that had to be done, otherwise you might still find me in a soggy pile on the kitchen floor. Only thing is, I got used to my ‘fake it til I make it’, smile glued on, survival that by the time Mr got home, it was easier to just stay that way – going through the motions, heart closed off to the world. The temptation to hide under a rock with a supply of coffee and chocolate has been really high!
A life without kids is never a life I imagined for myself – from about 8yrs old I’ve dreamed of being a mum, having a family. I’d always wanted 3 but 2 would have been ok (Mr only wanted 1 or 2, so 2 felt like the compromise), but as the past 4 years have happened the hope has changed to “1 would be fine” – asking for more felt greedy when 1 seemed so difficult, but it appears we managed to piss all the gods off and none is to be our lot.
Waves of every emotion roll over me – anger, loneliness, failure, hurt, devastation, grief, sorrow. I’ve been strong for so long, picking myself up after every set back and trying again. Now, I’m not so sure I actually want to pick myself up. I’m all out of strong. All those sayings about ‘what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger’…..I’m not sure I believe them. I don’t feel I’m any stronger than before. I don’t feel I’ve learnt anything or gained anything from this Trying To Conceive (TTC) horror. In fact, I feel like I’ve lost most things – lost my patience, lost my compassion for others, lost my self-esteem & self-worth, lost friendships, lost hope & faith, lost fitness, lost my dreams & future plans. If I gained anything, it was weight – about 20kgs of it! And anger, cynicism & jadedness. I know I have lots to be grateful for, but right now, none of it helps, and most of it…I’d trade if it meant being a mum. The one thing I am most grateful for is my marriage – but there’s no luck there for why we still have a good marriage – that’s all down to hard work and tolerance on both our parts. Maybe that’s why I have little compassion and patience for others – I’ve needed it all for myself & our marriage to ensure survival.
I’m still mostly in shock and disbelief really – I can go about my days (mostly) doing the things that need to be done – but mostly it just feels like the limbo we’ve had between cycles, as if we’re still trying – and then I’ll see or hear or think something that reminds me I’ll never have kids now & its like getting punched all over again. Most of my days I spend trying to prevent myself from crying, and feeling like it’s all a bad dream that surely I’ll wake up from soon. Part of my wants to stay here, wallowing in the pain – I don’t want to be the ‘inspirational’ person who picks themselves up and goes on to make a nice life for themselves. The other part of me wants to jump the painful stage and just get on with building a happy life – and maybe an inspirational one with a successful blog, a book and a TED talk, haha, but realistically I don’t know how to do either. And logically I know it’ll be a bit of both and a mix of forward and backward steps, and along the way it’ll probably get somewhat easier, some how. And somehow in there I’m going to have to reinvent myself, create a new identity out of this identity crisis & learn to like myself & my life again.

 

*My husband works away for a couple of weeks at a time (and then is home for a bit), we have phone/email contact in that time but can’t see each other in person.