Today is November 17th, World Prematurity Day. According to the March of Dimes, 15 million babies are born prematurely around the world each year. More babies die from prematurity than from AIDS, malaria or diarrhea. Each year in the United States, 1 in 9 babies—about 450,000—are born prematurely. Prematurity is defined as birth that occurs prior to 37 weeks gestation.
I take World Prematurity Day personally. I have two preemies. My daughter was born at 26 weeks and almost died again 26 years ago today from sepsis. There were many surgeries, terrible fears, PTSD, and many, many sleepless night. Finally, unbelievably, my preemie came home to be our real live baby after 100 days in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).
Preemies aren’t just small babies and they don’t look like little dolls. As you can see, my daughter looked like a science project. I learned a lifetime’s worth of medical terminology. I became what I call a Clinical Mommy. I learned to read medical charts and consult with physicians and nurses as an equal. Bringing my girly into my life changed it in ways I am still learning about. It changed my career and the calling of my life. For my infertility clients who want twins, I promise you that you don’t want two desperately sick preemies. Or even one.
To those who are preemie parents, or those of you who know someone who is, thank goodness for the Internet! For parents of preemies up to age 4, check out Preemie-L, a wonderful listserve of helpful preemie parents. For parents of preemies over the age of 4, check out Preemie Child.
Now I’ll share with you the gift that I was given when my daughter was impossibly small and fragile. Someone showed me a picture of their healthy preemie. The message was “Watch your baby. Babies grow. Have hope.” So I share this today with preemies, their parents, their friends, and their loved one. Watch your Baby. Babies Grow. Have Hope.
I am writing this blog post on the day after the 2016 election. Many are attempting to understand the mystery of the unexplained. The unexplainable unexpected. Living in the no word zone. Mystery defies reason. The difficulty with the unexplained is that there are no ready answers, right now, when you need them.
Many of you live with the unexplained every day. There are no answers for the infertility diagnosis that you live with. Your baby has died unexpectedly and nothing makes sense about anything. You or someone you love is diagnosed with cancer. In the spirit of offering balance and healing, I offer 5 tips for living with the mystery of the unexplained:
- Bathe yourself in compassion and love. Have it for yourself. You hurt. You are confused and frightened. Love this person. And offer it to others, even if you are not sure you have it for yourself. We have been doing a lot of hugging today at Partners in Healing of Minneapolis, colleagues and clients. Connect with others from your best place. I don’t have words for that right now but you will know what it is for you.
- Allow yourself to grieve before you look for answers and options. There will be some clarity about something at some point. For now, mourn your loss but hold on to your dreams. Let the world stop spinning for a few minutes and just mourn.
- Acknowledge your fears. Actually, acknowledge all of your feelings, whatever they are. It may help to express your fears to those you trust. However, be selective about who you express your fears and other feelings to. Look for comfort from people that you trust. Avoid people, for now, who either bring more questions or no empathy. This is not the time to hope that “that person” will come around and give you what you need. You don’t need to be pooh-poohed, or fixed, or pitied, or “adviced” by others. Just ask them to listen. If that’s not possible, thank them and move on to someone who can just connect with you.
- Gently release the idea of control. Really. The mystery of the unexplained is just beyond your and my control. Just ride the wave of unexplainable stuff while keeping your head above water. Ride the roller coaster with your seatbelt attached tight and hold on. You’re not sure where you are going yet. Just hold on to yourself. It’s okay to turn off social media and the news. You do have control about that. And your reactions to what you come across. I understand that your reactions may not always be pretty.
- Understand, truly, that the sun comes out every day and that every day is an opportunity to find something new. Sometimes that new thing will be painful. Sometimes that thing will be to learn to be still, just to explore the feelings and thoughts you have. Sometimes the answer will arrive in the most unexpected way or the most unexpected person. Always, always, look to love and compassion for your answers.
Love to you all, always, Debbie
Dealing with infertility and its treatment is challenging. With it comes choices. That’s the good thing.
And the hard thing. It means that you are responsible for making choices.
I know that these choices are forced choices. You feel forced into doing things you never thought you would have to do. Or things that you don’t want to do.
If things were working reproductively, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.
It’s not that you don’t have choices. You do.
It’s that you don’t like the choices you have.
You don’t have a choice about your fertility and its challenges. You DO have a choice about what to do about it.
When you don’t have a choice, make a choice.
There will not be a perfect, right choice. But there will be one or more choices you can live with. Here are 5 choices you DO have about infertility.
Choosing not to freak out. It helps to keep your wits about you.
When faced with an infertility diagnosis, people go through a variety of emotions: shock; disbelief; denial; embarrassment; fear; sadness; anger; panic; failure; and shame, among many more. The same thing can happen when something you try doesn’t work. You absolutely have the right to feel whatever you feel whenever you feel it. That makes you NORMAL. Don’t let anyone tell you to buck up or be grateful for what you have. That “advice” isn’t empathy. What is important is to keep your thinking cap on, however you can, whenever you can. You might be scared or pissed off at yourself, your partner, God, or the world. Use your head to figure out what to do about it. Don’t just get mad at infertility—get even with it. Figure out a plan you can live with.
Treating the fertility problem. Or not.
To treat or not to treat. This is the question. Whether ’tis Nobler in the mind to suffer… You get my point. There are good fertility clinics and acupuncturists out there. Lots of them. You can try some dietary changes and see if they can “reset” your fertility. You can choose to treat the problem now. Or you can wait. Or not treat it at all. Figure out how much time you have to consider your options. Consult with the right doctor to get the data you need. Talk and maybe negotiate with your partner. Most important, check in with yourself about what plan makes sense and feels right to you. Make a choice. Move forward.
Choosing the level of treatment. Not everyone jumps straight to IVF.
Sometimes the problem you are struggling with can be treated with low-tech options, like ovulation predictor kits or oral medication. Because you may have insurance coverage for inseminations and medication, it might make sense to give that intermediate step a try for a short while. But for some problems, like a fallopian tube blockage or poor sperm quality or no sperm at all, I’m sorry to say it but you will need a higher level of treatment. Some people like to go step-wise with their treatment, adding on treatments as needed. Pacing yourself is fine. Others want to get this journey over with. Which one are you? Be realistic. Make a short-term and a longer-term plan. Be strategic.
Picking the time to do treatment. Just don’t wait too long.
Some of you have been trying to conceive for longer than you ever thought possible. Hope, finances, and some level of denial can make people wait even longer to get started on treatment. I have been with so many people who wish they could have started treatment sooner. You get to pick the timing of when you start treatment with one caveat: If you are nearing 40, don’t wait. Go. Run to the fertility clinic, NOT your OB/GYN. OB/GYN’s are awesome at pregnancies and delivering babies, not fertility challenges. You also get to pick the timing of when you take a break or trying something different. I really don’t want you to have heartbreaking regret about wasting precious time.
Choosing to be open to different options. Your partner needs to do that.
One of the challenges of life is that choices can be limited. Again, you may not like your choices. Not at all. Not one bit. If you are absolutely closed to adoption or donor sperm, that is your right BUT you may be limiting your partner’s opportunities, too. Think about fairness. She or he may grow some mighty resentments toward you if you won’t even explore possible choices. It has been a certainty in my practice that when people take the time to learn more about adoption, IVF, donor eggs, or donor sperm, and challenge their negative assumptions, they become more open to the possibilities of building a family in a different way. Data and facts are always better than assumptions!
These are 5 choices you DO have about infertility. What’s most important is to make a choice. Get unstuck. Something can work. Something different can work. Life moves forward. You can move forward, too.
People sometimes wonder why others turn to gestational surrogacy as a way of building a family. I am happy to add my two cents and expertise to this important topic because I work daily with Intended Parents and Gestational Surrogates. These are lovely, loving people. Here’s why gestational surrogacy is a blessing and here to stay.
For heterosexual Intended Parents, meaning people who wish to be first-time parents or add to their family, there is a long list of medical problems that can lead people to surrogacy including:
- Mayer-Rokitansky-Kuster-Hauser syndrome (MRKH), a congenital condition that results in a woman’s uterus and vagina being absent or underdeveloped
- Cancer survivor, which can restrict use of hormones or have resulted in the removal of ovaries or the uterus
- Multiple miscarriages
- Bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or other mental health condition that, if untreated, could be dangerous during pregnancy
- Blood clotting disorders
- Unexplained infertility
- Previous birth trauma (hemorrhage, uterine rupture)
- Too many C-sections
- Heart complications
- History of premature delivery, sometimes resulting in the death of a baby
Gay Intended Parents want to be parents, too. They want to be represented genetically. Just like straight Intended Parents.
Surrogates, also called gestational carriers, want to meet the need. And the need is growing day by day. They are not “surrogate mothers.” Surrogates are mothers to their own children, not to the child or children they carry. They are quite articulate about that. They will tell you every time that the child they are carrying “It’s not my baby. I’m just carrying the baby. They are the parents.”
They believe it. I believe them.
Do you? I hope so.
Helping people to build their families is a blessing.
Here’s the thing that people who are anti-surrogacy need to understand. Surrogacy makes sense to Intended Parents and their families and friends. Surrogacy makes sense to gestational carriers, their partners, their children, their families and friends. They all see this as a blessing. If you are a religious person, you might even say that all babies come from God and this is one way that God can help to bring a baby into the world. To ease hurt and suffering. To bring joy. Gestational surrogacy works and is a blessing.
Ending or restricting gestational surrogacy would be like stopping a moving train with your hand. People would get hurt. Badly. But it will keep going.
What we need to do is to ensure that Intended Parents and Gestational Surrogates are safe in the process.
Legislation is needed to protect Surrogates and Intended Parents.
Here in Minnesota and across the United States.
Because gestational surrogacy is a blessing that’s here to stay.
Infertility takes over your life. How can you get to the clinic before your big presentation today? Is today ovulation day? Did you do your injection at the right time in the right dosage? Will your spouse be home from the work trip in time to give a semen sample? How many BBB’s (Big Bellies and Babies) are you going to see at the grocery today? How many blogs can you read today about infertility? How sick of infertility are you?
Infertility takes over your mind, too. It is very hard not to think about. I bet you know what day of the cycle you are on. I remember how confused and angry I was every month when I wasn’t ovulating but my doctor kept pooh-poohing my concerns and my intuition. I could not stop thinking about it, only to be told that I was obsessing, not to worry, and to relax.
I know what you are going through. I am sorry that you hurt and you are scared that the hurt won’t ever end.
Until that moment when the pregnancy test is positive.
Could this be happening?
Do another few tests at home. They are still positive! What does this mean?! Everybody says that you should feel happy about a positive result, right?
Not when you have been trying for months or years.
When you have been in the infertility trenches and you are now pregnant, you are in what I call a
Prove It Pregnancy
Yes, that’s right. A Prove It Pregnancy. Yeah, yeah, other people stay pregnant and have babies. Could that be possible?
Infertility tells you, “Hold on there, honey. This can’t possibly work out well.” It’s the Too Good To Be True Factor. But this could be real. Truly. Really.
When you get pregnant after months—or years—of undergoing fertility treatment, there is shock, disbelief, and excitement. Shhhhhh! Don’t jinx it! That first ultrasound can scare the jeepers out of you. But it might be real. You may not really believe it until the next ultrasound. Maybe not. Maybe later. Am I pregnant? Prove it.
Transferring your care from the fertility clinic to an OB/GYN or midwife care can be disorienting and even frightening. This means that your pregnancy is continuing, despite your fear. Can this really be happening? Yes. I know that you may have had a close relationship with the fertility clinic doctors and nurses. You can learn to trust a clinic that can help you deliver a baby.
Really?! Yes. It is possible.
And there may come a time when you consider investing in the pregnancy and a baby, but fear still may remain. Superstition is normal in a Prove It Pregnancy. Others want to invest in baby stuff. No. Thanks. Maybe. Later. It is okay to put things off.
As one gentleman recently said to me, “I may think about investing in the pregnancy when we get to 26 or 27 weeks. When it seems real.” And a woman I know thought it might be okay to peek at Pinterest. Sure. For just a moment. And honestly, it may not seem real until a baby is warm and squawking in your arms. That’s okay.
It’s a Prove It Pregnancy.