As a counterpoint to my heartfelt and earnest post yesterday, today’s Show and Tell is full of pretty pictures.

But first we must back up.

By the time I got to IVF #1 in June, I was an old pro at giving myself injections, having been through two injectable + IUI cycles recently as well as several intramuscular HCG trigger shots (the hardest ones of all) years earlier during Clomid + IUI cycles. Even though I had become accustomed to the shots, I wasn’t prepared for the sheer volume of injections that IVF involves. There were so many vials and pens, so many needles, so many alcohol swabs, so many gauze pads.

Most of the gauze pads didn’t have a drop of blood on them, but I kept using them after every injection. Then I got the crazy idea of collecting the gauze pads (I did throw out the ones with blood on them). Then I got the even crazier idea of using the gauze pads in my pottery, to create a permanent testament to my process. If the cycle resulted in a baby, someday the child could use the pots.

Did someone say that IVF plays with your emotions?

I started making the gauze pots during the cycle, but finished them after the cycle had succeeded then failed. And so now, the pots are a testament to the process and also to the baby that almost was.

First, the first pot I made, which I started during the cycle. I used the gauze to texture the wet clay after I had thrown the cup on the wheel, like this:

In the photo, you can see how the gauze was affixed to the wet clay, and how the gauze, once removed, left a bumpy texture.

Unfortunately, when I glazed it, most of the texture was smoothed over by the glaze.

At the bottom you can still make out horizontal lines from the gauze impression, and close-up there are also little bumps here and there, but for the most part the effect didn’t come through.

Just to clarify the scale, after my camera tricks a few weeks ago that made a tiny vase seem large, the above cup is 4 inches tall by 4 inches in diameter.

Next, I tried to use the gauze at the glazing phase. I don’t have photos of the process, because when your hands are covered in glaze and/or wax it’s a bad idea to touch your camera.

To make this one, I glazed the pot with one color of glaze, then stuck the gauze to the outside and painted over the gauze with a different color of glaze. The idea was that the gauze would leak through the holes in the glaze and leave a pattern. It didn’t quite work, but it’s still a nice pot.

Finally, I glazed this little pot with one color, then stuck the gauze to the outside and painted over the gauze with wax resist. Whatever gets waxed will not absorb any additional glaze. After the wax had dried, I dipped the pot in the second color. The idea was that the wax would lead to a gauze pattern in the glaze, but again it didn’t work. The wax didn’t come through in a gauze pattern, but it did leave little random shapes here and there — the brownish circles you see scattered about.

So here we have three permanent testaments to IVF #1 and the resulting miscarriage, all of which did not work out (pots and baby included). However, I did get the gauze pattern to work out on a different pot, but you will have to come back for next week’s Show and Tell to see the success.

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One Night Only

September 27, 2008

We interrupt your regularly scheduled broadcast for this special program…

(Opinions expressed below. If you are uncomfortable with opinions about touchy topics, well you probably shouldn’t be reading an infertility blog. But if you don’t want to hear it and you just want to look at something pretty, ignore this post and come back for Show and Tell tomorrow.)

I am full of opinions, in real life and on this blog. But usually in real life and even moreso on this blog, I try to keep my political opinions to myself. Just this once, though, I can’t keep silent.

I have always believed in a Woman’s Right to Choose, but there was a time when I didn’t pay much attention to those issues. When I saw Cider House Rules with a friend who has spent her entire working life as a Pro-Choice activist, I left the theater talking about the characters, and she left the theater talking about what an important message the film had. She thought that by focusing on cute orphans and flawed mentors, I was missing the point.

Sometime after that, I started paying more attention. In making my voting decisions I would carefully study several dimensions of candidates’ platforms and legislative histories, including the right to choose. It takes me a long time to prepare my ballot before election day.

Still, I am far from a Pro-Choice activist myself. I have never given a penny to Planned Parenthood or other Pro-Choice organizations. I have never marched or picketed. I have never escorted a woman, neither stranger nor friend, into an abortion clinic. I do list the Right to Choose as a top concern when pollsters ask me about the election, which happens fairly often in my Purple State.

Even though I have long believed in the Right to Choose, I always thought that I would never exercise that Right myself. If I had gotten accidentally pregnant as a teenager, I would have kept the baby, as disruptive as that would have been for my life plan. As much as I want a child now, I did not want a child at age 19. But still, abortion is not a choice that I would have been able to make.

I maintained this belief that what’s okay for you is not okay for me, until I started injectables. DH has fervently opposed higher order multiples whenever the topic has come up, and he strongly prefers not to have twins. I don’t object to multiples in theory, except that (a) multiples greatly increase the risk of losing one, some, or all babies; and (b) a good friend of mine has twins, and I have witnessed the severe disruption to both parents’ otherwise ambitious careers that those wonderful babies have caused. DH and I are equally if not more ambitious than that couple. DH has declared his belief that twins would put us both several years behind in our careers, and if we had higher order multiples, his career would be over. But for me, the potential for danger and loss is much scarier.

This is why, when I started injectables earlier this year, I freaked out about the possibility of multiples. During some of my many sleepless nights during that first cycle, I consulted Dr. Google for everything I could find (which was surprisingly little) about selective reduction. I even watched marathons of Jon and Kate Plus 8 to remind myself why higher-order multiples are out of the question (as cute as those little ones may be, quitting my job to shepherd a flock of babies is not for me). I knew that it would break my heart to do it, but that if the time came, reduction would need to be done. I had made up my mind.

My injectable cycles came and went with two BFNs. Reductions became less of a concern when I moved on to IVF. But the Right to Choose continues to be an issue because I am employing reproductive technologies. Can I freeze my embryos? How many am I allowed to transfer? What can I do with the embryos if I don’t need them anymore? Could I give the embryos to another couple? Could I give the embryos to scientists who would learn from them? Can I use someone else’s gametes to make an embryo?

I recently returned from Japan, where it has been illegal to do IVF with the gametes of someone who is not your spouse (even though it is legal and very common to have affairs, and therefore to conceive a child naturally with anyone you want). I considered a side trip but didn’t quite make it to China, where people are fined by the government when they have more than one child. In many countries, government controls over fertility and reproductive freedoms are extensive, and sometimes stifling. Learning about the Japanese restrictions made me realize how much, if Certain People have their way, government controls over reproductive freedoms will increase here in the U.S. as well.

I told DH about the Japanese restrictions, and in a moment of epiphany I exclaimed, “Overruling Roe V. Wade would mean changes in my own IVF treatment options!” And he said, “Of course it would. The people who don’t want anyone to get abortions certainly don’t want you and me to do what we need to do to have a baby.”

It starts with late-term abortions. And then the line gets earlier and earlier, and applies to more and more people. And then selective reduction is not an option. But because higher-order multiples are so dangerous, if selective reduction is not an option then they have to restrict the number of embryos that can be transferred and the number of eggs that can be fertilized. And then it keeps going from there, until many of us are out of choices.

I don’t know if the next IVF cycle will work, or the next one. Therefore, by the time another President is in the White House, I might very well still be working on making my first baby. And I refuse, I flatly refuse, to let the government tell me what I can and can’t do with my own body. I’ve been at this baby-making thing for almost 7 years, and I’ve encountered enough hurdles from nature that I’ll be damned if I’m going to encounter more hurdles from bossy politicians.

Thankfully, I have many options, more than most. I could opt to get my treatments in a country with fewer governmental restrictions, if it comes to that. If the reproductive restrictions get too restrictive (along with the other restrictive restrictions that would invariably accompany Certain Administrations), I could opt to move to any number of other countries, due to DH’s career mobility, my career in a flexible industry, our language skills, our willingness to learn another language, and our adventurous natures. Do I want my kids to grow up across the ocean from their extended family? Maybe not. But do I want to be able to have kids? Absolutely. Do I need enormous medical help to make that happen? Unfortunately, yes. Would Certain People try to make that difficult if not impossible? Very possibly.

On this blog you will not hear me say that Certain People are frauds, or idiots, or liars, or opportunists, or fools who think that abstinence education leads to chastity and only married heterosexual couples who use the missionary position with the lights off should have a baby. I won’t even talk about how they make me want to puke, how I literally get nauseous almost every day thinking about the election. You will not hear me say those things, even if I do say them out loud and shake my fists and jump up and down sometimes when no one is looking. But, one time only, I will say this to my infertile sisters and brothers:

John McCain and Sarah Palin are not looking out for your reproductive interests. They will make it even more difficult than it already is for you to have a baby. Electing them would be a catastrophic mistake. Please don’t.

I happen to think it would be disasterous for hundreds of reasons, but the important one right now, most relevant to the readers of this blog, is that at the end of their hypothetical first term, and for as long as their Supreme Court appointees sat on the bench, all of us would have fewer options for bringing children into our families than we do today. And most of the people reading this already have fewer options than the average person. We need all of the options we can get.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled broadcast.

Coming up next: Infertility Pottery. No, really. I didn’t just put two of my favorite words together. I actually made infertility pottery.

Human Resource

September 26, 2008

I’ve alluded several times to the new job that I took primarily for the health insurance. Since the insurance was so central to my taking the job, you’d hope that it would have been smoother to actually become insured. Right now, a month into the job, I do have an insurance card, but I haven’t yet used any services. First there were several weeks of bureaucratic incompetence, and then once that was resolved, just a little procrastination on my part for the past few days. Now, I need to choose a primary care doctor who I will then see to get referred back to my own RE, hopefully with the judgment that certain interventions not normally covered are in fact medically necessary, or at least, with my hysteroscopy and maybe some meds for IVF #2 covered. This means that I need to choose the right doc, not just any doc off the list, but one who will greenlight me. And that requires extensive research, which I haven’t had time to do, because I now have two jobs. See the catch?

Oh, and by the way, I got my period today. Which is not a huge deal except that it means that IVF #2 will be yet another month later than I’d originally planned.

Anyway, in dealing with the people at Human Resources, it was one bumble after another. My “favorite” (not the one that caused the most trouble, just the “funniest” in infertility terms) came when I drudged up the courage to ask the HR rep about the possibility of IF coverage.

The benefits leaflet, which I’d already memorized in the process of choosing among my choices of health plans available for the job, said that IF diagnostics were covered as well as IUIs but not IVF. I’m well beyond diagnostics and IUI now (but a year ago could have saved over $10k if I’d had this insurance). Now I am heading into IVF #2 with ICSI. Dr. Full Steam Ahead insisted that I seek out an IF rider on my new insurance because they are so easy to get, so in my supposedly-confidential-but-with-the-door-wide-open meeting with the HR lady, it was time to ask and prove that Dr. Full Steam Ahead was wrong and that I can’t possibly get IVF covered. I said, “There are some services that aren’t normally covered. I would like to find out about the possibility of getting an additional rider to cover those services.” “What services are those,” she asked? “Umm… these” (pointing to infertility in the leaflet). Here comes the good part.

Oh. Well I’d have to ask the rep from the insurance company, I just don’t know. I hear that those things are very expensive. It must be very exciting though!

Dumbfounded by her comment, I just sort of mumbled yes. Inside, I was saying:

Exciting? Are you fucking kidding me? The first few months I was trying to conceive it was exciting. The last six and a half years have been a lot of things, but exciting has never been an apt description.

And, a month later, I still haven’t gotten an answer about the rider.

Her comment reminded me of one of my many trips to the drugstore to buy pregnancy tests, when the drugstore clerk made a comment. Only the women ever make comments; the men are appropriately silent. The woman, probably around 30, looked at my 3-pack of tests and said:

Ooh, that must be exciting.

Instead of mumbling yes to humor her like I did with the HR lady, who actually has an impact on my life, I just stared at her quizzically. You see, there are many reasons why buying pregnancy tests would be far from exciting. Among them, unwanted or unplanned pregancies. Also among them, long-term infertility. In fact, between the number of tests purchased by each infertile women, plus all of the teens and women wishing “please G-d no”, I venture to say that the majority of pregnancy test purchases are not exciting.

Perhaps having a baby is exciting. I wouldn’t know. But the 40th home pregnancy test? IVF #2? Absolutely not. Anyone who has been there, or anyone who actually stopped to think about it, would choose a different word. Or maybe they would refrain from intrusive personal comments during a business transaction.

Lessons from Japan: Part 2

September 24, 2008

Yesterday I wrote about my recent trip to Japan and my reflections on what their low birth rate might mean for people facing primary and secondary infertility. I left you with a cliffhanger about something shocking that I learned. It has to do with the highest-profile infertile couple in the country.

When I was a little girl, I would imagine that I became a princess. Think Princess Diana, not Disney princess. That was never in the cards for me, but now I have discovered a new reason to be grateful that I am not royalty.

Princess Masako.

She is the wife of Naruhito, Crown Prince of Japan, elder son of the emperor and first in line for the throne.

In many ways, Masako represents a new breed of princess. She was born a commoner, but her pedigree would be considered outstanding in non-imperial countries. Her father is a diplomat and university professor. Masako grew up in Russia and the United States. She speaks 6 languages. She studied at Harvard, Oxford, and the University of Tokyo. She became a diplomat herself until quitting her job to become the Crown Princess.

The most notable feature of her reign is that she has been unable to produce a male heir. As a result, she has experienced tremendous personal struggles and rampant criticism.

Here’s a timeline, which I find helpful for understanding her situation.

Age 29: married
Age 29 to 35: no pregnancies, even though her #1 job as Crown Princess is to produce a future Emperor; meanwhile, her brother-in-law (her husband’s only brother) and his wife give birth to their second daughter
Age 36: Masako’s first pregnancy announced in the media; soon after, the media has to retract their announcement when Masako has a miscarriage
Age 37: pregnant again, probably conceived through IVF
a few days before 38th birthday: Masako gives birth to daughter Aiko

I will pause my timeline here. For most of us, after struggling with infertility for 7 years of marriage (presumably with 7 years of TTC), the birth of a daughter would be fantastic news. And it might even be enough. But that’s not the case when having a baby boy is your official mandate.

Age 39 to 41: Media and family pressure to produce a son; Masako allegedly undergoes IVF again and experiences another miscarriage; she increasingly withdraws from public life
Age 41: Depression officially revealed to media and public
Age 41 and 42: Political movement to allow daughter Aoki to become empress, pushed forward by government-appointed panel and prime minister
Age 43: Political movement abandoned when Masako’s sister-in-law gives birth to son

And so the role of women in Japan, which as I mentioned yesterday, is less progressive than in most western countries, had a chance to accelerate forward. And then progress stalled when it became unnecessary.

Masako’s experience highlights the many pressures that infertile women deal with, but magnified tremendously.

Being in a fertility race with family members like your sister-in-law.

Nosy mothers-in-law. Masako’s mother-in-law, the Empress, reportedly demanded to know each month when Masako got her period.

Having others assign blame willy-nilly. A German newspaper got into big international trouble when they ran a picture of Naruhito with the caption “dead trousers.”

Second-guessing yourself, or being second-guessed by others. The media questioned Masako’s motivation for baby-making, when for example, she would decide to travel.

Us against the world. Naruhito made a public announcement for people to back off from Masako, then got tremendous flack from his family for speaking out and not getting the approval of the Emperor.

And so, my trip to Japan taught me about an extraordinary woman whose private pain and years of attempts to have children were broadcast to her in-laws, the media, the country, and the world. A woman for whom infertility became so emotional that she had to hide away from everyone. A woman for whom youth was initially on her side, but whose attempts to conceive took so long that time became an enemy. A woman who did everything she could to have children, and with some success and much failure. For a princess, she sure has a lot in common with the rest of us.

Lessons from Japan: Part 1

September 23, 2008

In my last post I Showed and Told you about my visit to the Sensoji Temple in Tokyo and its special wishing well (more of a wooden grate). But on my trip to Tokyo last week I had two experiences that directly pertained to fertility.

The first was hanging out with a Japanese family with one young child. I learned that the average number of children per family is not much higher than 1, and therefore the most common experience for Japanese families is to have only one child. My first thought was that this would be a relief for those dealing with secondary infertility, because there wouldn’t be the pressure to have a second child nor questions about when the next one would be coming. One child would be enough, at least for as long as it took to create the second. I drew the conclusion that Japan is better for people with secondary IF than the countries with very high birth rates where large families are the norm, or even than the countries (like the U.S.) where the birth rate is between 2 and 3 and therefore having more than one child is the most common experience.

My second thought was that Japan would be terrible for those dealing with primary infertility, because if you’re only going to have one child, you’d better get down to business. When 1 is the optimal number, 0 children is definitely not enough. My local friends confirmed that there is tremendous pressure to have a child, particularly since the role of women in Japanese society is very “traditional” (in many ways, an early-1960s version of the U.S. in terms of gender politics). Japan is a fascinating and beautiful country, but I have heard from many people, both native and gaijin (non-Japanese foreigner), that it’s a problematic place to be a woman.

As an aside, it’s funny that my first thought pertained to a situation that has nothing to do with me (secondary infertility) instead of a situation that has everything to do with me (primary). It’s not at all funny that I walk around the world viewing everything through an infertility lens.

During my trip I learned something else much more shocking about fertility in Japan — but you will have to come back tomorrow to find out what that was!

(Cue cliffhanger music: daa-da-daaaaaaaa!)

Show and Tell: Two-Fer

September 21, 2008

This week’s Show and Tell is a two-fer. First, I reveal the prize for guessing the prize for guessing. Or, Show and Tell: Bridge, part 4. Next, I show an alternate prize.

At the last Show and Tell, I revealed the true height of the vase that Lori from Weebles Wobblog, All Thumbs Reviews, and Drama 2B Mama won when she correctly guessed that my Show and Tell about a bridge took place in Budapest. I asked people to guess the height of the vase, and everyone overestimated the size, from 250% to 370% too large.

Wishing 4 One was the closest, and won a vase for herself. However, since she lives in Egypt and mailing breakable packages can be difficult, I gave her the option of a vase or another prize such as a wish. She figured out a way to ship the vase, but I thought I would show you what her alternate prize would have been. First, here is the vase.

That is a glaze that I created myself, and have struggled with for over a year. Sometimes it looks fantastic, and sometimes there are major problems. But, it turned out pretty well on that vase — not the glaze I intended, but still nice. It’s more blue in real life.

One of the alternate prizes I offered to Wishing 4 One was a wish at a special wishing location, since I was on the other side of the world at the time — after all, her blog is called Wishing 4 One. Last month, I wrote a post about different wishes I have made through the years. I did make a wish for myself at this special place, Sensoji, the oldest temple in Tokyo. This wishing area is in the Buddhist temple, but it is adjacent to a Shinto shrine. I bet you can guess what I wished for.

Here is the wooden grate through which you throw your coin before making your wish.

And here you can see some other people making their wishes. Most people put their hands together in prayer position and bowed while wishing, as the woman on the right of the photo is doing.

It is interesting to go as a tourist to a place that is holy to some but not to you. Churches throughout the world where some come to look and some come to worship. Walking up stairs alongside pilgrims who are climbing the hundreds of stairs on their knees. In this case, walking under a giant red lantern, passing through a pedestrian market full of shops, past a Shinto shrine, through a large cloud of incense smoke, into a Buddhist temple. Learning my “fortune” on a lark rather than because I actually believe in what the paper will say. Making a wish without confidence that the act of wishing has any meaning anymore.

To celebrate the first day of IComLeavWe and make it easy for commenters, I will throw out a question: If you had a choice between a little vase and a wish made for you, which would you choose?

Dreamy

September 19, 2008

I had a dream last night that combined several of my interests and several of my fears. There is no coherent narrative, just snippets of scenes.

I went to the pottery studio, and all of my in-progress pieces had been thrown away.

I was vacationing in the Maldives with my in-laws. My siblings-in-law were insufferable complainers. The “exclusive” island turned out to be overrun by rambunctious 14-year-olds.

Angelina was having sex with someone who wasn’t Brad, then midway realized that she might conceive a child of dubious paternity.

Angelina’s adultery was interrupted by an urgent hunger for muffins. She opened a drawer of the hotel dresser and found a marvelous array of muffins.