The Fruits of My Labor

DSCN0145Gone but not forgotten….maybe that should be the title of this post. It’s been 9 months since my last blog. (Is there such thing bloggers anonymous?) Well, a lot has happened in that time so now I’m not sure where to begin. Might be easier to start with the ending. Twin boys! My fertility efforts finally paid off and I was rewarded with two beautiful twin boys, Dylan and Cooper, at the end of March. Both born in good health, significant poundage for twins and requiring no time in the NICU. And now they are 7 weeks old. I thought time flew when I was single. Try being a single mom…time seems to fly at a double rate! Which seems funny, when all you do is feed and burp babies and change diapers. It’s 24/7 work I tell ya.

Pregnancy was relatively good to me. Generally only suffered minor ailments. No nausea, no vomiting. Little carpal tunnel. Lots of tiredness. I didn’t look pregnant until 6 months and most people couldn’t believe I was carrying twins, a.k.a. I didn’t look huge. (Yeah!) Gained 45 pounds, but have lost 35. Can’t complain. But would I do it again? Not so sure…maybe I would consider it if I didn’t have twins. I never wanted an only child, but with twins – problem solved! Got the two for one deal.

I delivered at 36 1/2 weeks, earlier than planned. Some high blood pressure encouraged my doctor to admit me to the hospital during one of my regular appointments with him. I was surprised, but shouldn’t have been. He had warned me for weeks. So as I walked to labor and delivery from my doctor’s office, I lamented that my hospital bag was not packed and I had not decided on baby names. Ah well, that’s what family is for. Mom packed my bag with some guided instructions and after my c-section delivery later that evening, as I lay in recovery, my family firmed up the baby names, deciding which 2 of the 3 were a most proper fit. My recovery took longer than expected due to a placenta that refused to detach from my uterine wall and significant blood loss. Four days in the hospital and a blood transfusion later, I returned home. Unfortunately, complications on my part continued and shortness of breath and huge swollen legs had me back in the hospital to test for blood clots. In the end, everything turned out fine.

My post partum world is a whirlwind of sleep deprivation, making and washing bottles, changing diapers, feeding and burping babies, soothing, swaddling, shushing, cradling, pacifying and crying. To be honest, the boys are really pretty good. Not big criers…but to have them both cry at once seems overwhelming and can bring me to tears. I knew the lack of sleep would always be the hardest part for me. I like my 8 hours. So to say that I feel like a zombie much of the time is an understatement. However, I’m learning that I can survive on 4 hours sleep. My body seems to have adjusted to moving into a deep sleep mode at the drop of the hat and yet one peep from the boys and I jump like lightning strikes. I also never knew about the muscles I have in the center and upper sections of my back, although they are making themselves painfully known now. Pain pain go away, come again another day. Oh yeah – another thing I’ve learned – you can turn anything into a lullabye…just lower your voice and adjust the tone. My sister says that I’m not getting out enough. Well, she’s probably right – in the past 7 weeks – other than runs to doctor offices, I’ve only taken the boys at twice on my own and only to a friend’s house and my sister’s house. I guess that means I’ve been cooped up. What can I say…baby steps! I still haven’t quite figured out how you go grocery shopping or any kind of shopping that requires a cart with two babies in their car seats. Open to suggestions here…

As usual, this experience opens up a whole new realm in social behavior: how people relate to you, how friends and family reach out to offer support, etc.  My interest in human social behavior continues and it’s been fascinating to see who turns up in times like this. First and foremost, family is a godsend. My Mom, Dad and sister have been right in on the action, completely hands on and reliable. I don’t know what I would do without them. I actually believed that I could do most of this twin ‘raising’ on my own…come to find out I was really delusional. Without my family, I’d be working of 2-3 hours of sleep a night and I’d probably be in the loony bin by now. I also have a few friends who have really stepped up – come over for feedings, called and kept in close contact. These are people I truly appreciate and adore for their support.

At that same time, a few close friends I’ve known for years have been decidedly absent or should I say, relatively ‘quiet’ and then out of the blue, perfect strangers have opened their arms with meals, words of advice and open doors. Some of my friends who live on a completely different continent with 7-10 hours time difference make more effort to stay in touch regularly via phone, email and Facetime then those who live within the US or state vicinity. I find it interesting that sometimes the people who you think will be a rock of support  turn out to be missing in action. I’m not sure what to make of it. I think much of it is just human behavior. We all get wrapped up in our own personal lives, our partners, our children or to those events closest to us. My expectations of friends have often been unrealistic or too high, so I have to take ownership of that as well. And quid pro quo…I may not have always been there for some of my friends either. I have to say going through the pregnancy-motherhood experience certainly gives you a new perspective. I never realized the value of simply bringing a meal or dropping by for a visit to help with feedings, calling and leaving messages or just hanging out and chatting so the new Mom can have some social exposure. Everyone says, “Oh, I didn’t want to bother you.”  Well, the first few days home are a bit of an adjustment but after that, I say bring it on! Even if the person isn’t asking for it, there’s a lot in the simple kindness of keeping in touch and reaching out in whatever way possible. It’s a shame if we’ve come to a place where people think they are more of a hinderance or bother in a time of need.

In any event, I’m thankful for all those who are making an effort, have shown me kindness and continue to share in my joy (and emotional and not so joyous) moments. Motherhood is certainly an adjustment and friends and family can only make it that much easier. I still have some days when I can’t believe these two wonderful little babiesare mine! The fruits of my labor finally paid off. Who would have thought?

Fifty Shades of Pop (Porn) Culture

So I finally read 50 Shades of Grey a few weeks ago to understand what the hype is all about. I know, I know I’m a sucker when it comes to giving into the mainstream and in all fairness, I need to admit up front that I did read all three books. Guess you could say it was my time to waste. But, wow allow me to applaud…that is some effective hype machine. Apparently, it is enough to sell millions of copies to millions of women and put all 3 books on the New York Times bestsellers list, but I still fail to understand the intrigue and excitement around this novel, if you can even call it that.

A friend of mine gave me a little history on the author, E L James. Apparently, this book or series of books came to fruition because Ms. James wrote what they call fan-fiction for Twilight. The idea behind fan-fiction is that people rewrite chapters or they write entirely new chapters based on characters already developed by another author, i.e. re-writing the story to play out the way someone else wants to see it. These pieces are shared on the Internet for anyone to read and enjoy. Ms. James used to write chapters based on the two characters of Bella and Edward. Enter in Anastasia and Christian Grey. Her work became quite popular and she drew a large following (ah that Twilight crowd…) which ultimately led to publishing these chapters in a book and one book became three. And now Ms. James is wealthier beyond her wildest dreams.

But allow me to share my opinion on the book. First don’t expect much, it’s poorly written. Think back to something you might have written in English 101. There’s no substance to it. Geez, if a book like that can sell, what’s holding me back? But secondly it’s hard-core erotica. Full stop. This is not a romance novel. It’s not a character book. It doesn’t have a truly functioning plot outside of the sex. It’s basically a bit of action and relationship development thrown in between sex, kinky sex, BDSM, and more sex. Amazon calls it a romance. I would suggest it’s erotica with a little romance to give you a break between the sex scenes. A girl can only get off so many times in 10 pages.

Maybe we should stop here and actually define erotica. Here are some definitions I found:
1) Literature which takes an artistic view of sex as content. 50 Shades – check.
2) Literature or art tended to arouse sexual desire. 50 Shades – check.
3) Evoking erotic arousal or depicts scenes of lovemaking includes paintings, drawings, sculptures, photographs, music and writing. 50 Shades – check.

Wait, so then what’s porn? I got curious and had to look up that definition as well. Pornography is defined as something of no literary or artistic value whose only point is to stimulate sexual desire. 50 Shades – check. Hmmm??? Seems like a fine line.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a problem with erotica for adults. I am, in fact, a fan of erotica and sex in general. (Ohhh…shock! Horror of all horrors! I am so glad my mother is reading this!) Let’s face it, erotica has been around for a long time. You know those stuffy, prudish morals in the Victorian era had to lead to some type of sexual outburst on the down low – what better way then books. But let’s call a spade a spade. This is not the type of book that is going to appear on the top 100 reading list of all time.

What I actually find fascinating about this book is the role it plays in impacting our cultural beliefs around sex and society’s attitude towards erotica, especially women. In the past, erotica has been treated in a similar vein as porn, in the sense that it is often something to be ashamed of, to secret away and not to talk to others about. Erotica was only minimally available in bookstores, if at all or you had to buy it at specialty sex shops. Covers were often black and brown paper packaging was a must. It’s only in the last decade that erotica has focused efforts towards targeting women. Women enjoy the story behind the sex and the imagination that comes into play when one reads. Whereas, we all know men are the more visual type.

So imagine my surprise when I read this book and realized it was a book of erotica. Here was a book that I bought at Barnes & Noble prominently displayed on one of the front tables, but I’d also seen it at King Soopers, well within eye level and easy reach. For a culture that seems to pride itself on protecting its youth from pornography, sex, bad language and other indiscretions, this book was surprisingly warning free and easily accessible to anyone. As a society, we aim to protect our children by blocking the cover of sex magazines, blurring images of sexual body parts, provide ratings for movies and TV to notify when contents contain nudity, profanity, violence or sexual imagery, and even music is given a rating if the lyrics are deemed inappropriate. And yet as much as we strive to protect our children, the fact is that sex, sexual imagery, and sexual connotations are increasingly around us and our children on a daily basis. It’s not hard to find. Go to the Internet. Watch nighttime TV or cable TV. Listen to the Howard Stern. It seems the more we try to squelch exposure to sex, the more pervasive it becomes.

I am digressing here. My real point was that suddenly it seems as if erotica has become mainstream and acceptable. I don’t hear any conservatives or concerned parents or religious groups talking about banning the book. Maybe those days are long gone. But no one’s talking of putting a warning label on the book or selling it only to those above the age of 18. Instead this book is marketed and sold well within reach of anyone who can read and it’s freely publicized by women all over the US. What better marketing plan is there? Erotica has even become the next big thing in the book business. Publishers are seeking out these writers and knock offs of 50 Shades are already appearing in your local grocery store, with suggestive, romantic titles like Burned.

So maybe the real question is: does the high profile and success of this book suggest that women are missing something? Something about this book has attracted women by the thousands, not only to read the book but also refer it to other women in droves. It’s a clear indication that there is something women want and are not getting in real life. Isn’t that why we all read books or watch movies? For the escapism, entertainment, education or to experience something through someone else that we otherwise never would. Is this a signal that women are living unsatisfied sexual lives and thus appear eager to live vicariously through characters in the book? Is this a way of being more vocal about their possible sexual needs or desires? Or have we really just come to a point where we’ve given up the pretense that erotica is a bad, shameful thing and started to embrace it?

The only real public discussion I’ve heard around the book is the insipid theory that this means women want to be spanked, taken care of and controlled by a man. Come on! Women are sexual beings. We all have our own fantasies and desires. Just because you read something in a book doesn’t mean you want to act upon it the next day. That’s part of what makes it a fantasy. And if some women did want to be spanked, taken care of or controlled is that so bad? Sometimes giving someone else control is a good thing. To each her own. Again, we all have our own desires. What tips your fancy may be difficult for someone else to stomach. Different strokes for different folks. That’s part of what makes us human. As long as you’re not harming anybody else and your participation is consensual, what you do in your bedroom is your own damn business!

So maybe women just want to spice things up? Maybe this is something for the men to actually ponder. Are you satisfying your woman? And if you answered yes, my question is how do you know? Because clearly there are a lot of women out there who are looking for something extra in their sex lives.

So read the book or don’t. (Obviously, despite my critique I got something out of it, since I read all 3 books. Must admit that I did like the email repartee, no matter how unrealistic it seemed with all that instantaneous response.) Enjoy it or not. (I enjoyed it for what it was – erotica.) Be shocked, awed, disappointed or entertained. (For all the hype, the sex was really fairly vanilla. The contract itself was more suggestive than the actual sex.) Criticize or praise. (You’ve heard my thoughts. Feel free to share yours.) Ultimately, I do think it’s a demonstration of a turning point in our culture, for good or for bad.

Laters babe!

Can’t Go Back Now

For the last month I’ve been writing blogs in my head. Problem with that is I usually forget them a day or two later and they never make it on ‘paper.’ Today I’m in the mountains, enjoying a little exploring and personal reflection. This is my go to song of the day. Lyrics are poignant or could mean nothing at all. Make it what you will. It’s one of those, but it fits my mood .

Yesterday when you were young everything you needed was done for you.
Now you’re on your own but you find you are all alone, what can you do?

You and me. Walk on walk on walk on because you can’t go back now.

You know there will be days that you can’t take another step.
Night will have no stars and you’ll think you will have gone as far as you will ever get.

Well you and me walk on walk on walk on because you can’t go back now.
Yeah. Yeah. Go where you want to go. Yeah. Yeah. Be what you want to be.
If you ever run around, you’ll see me.

I can’t really say why everybody wishes they were somewhere else.
But in the end the only steps that matter are the ones you take all by yourself.

You and me walk on walk on. Yeah you and me walk on walk on walk on because you can’t go back now.
Walk on walk on walk on.you can’t go back now.

That’s Can’t Go Back Now by the Weepies. And I’m walking on….

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Thirteen is Not an Unlucky Number!

Oh such great neglect on the blog front! Apologies all around, but I’ll blame a consulting trip overseas to East Africa and getting wrapped up with friends in my ‘home away from home.’ In the midst of these travels, there has been some fabulous news on the fertility front.  I think my last post on infertility (Baby Drama in the Single Lane) brought you up to speed on my struggles to date. To recap, four inseminations, 3 IVFs and 1 miscarriage within a 2 1/2 period had left me gasping for air with a very real sense of being doomed to fail. But given that I am a type-A personality, who doesn’t like to take no for an answer — after each disappointment, I got up, brushed myself off and forged ahead to the next step. What’s it going to take to make this happen and I’ll do it. I will admit that over time, I’ve become emotionally detached from the end goal of pregnancy and motherhood,which in a double-edged sword kind of way makes me feel like a bad mother. I don’t plan or think about what pregnancy might bring and I certainly can’t think about what happens if this doesn’t all work out. Surprisingly, I’ve discovered that I can compartmentalize just as well as any man. Honestly, the idea of never being a Mom or having my own family is too difficult to contemplate. And every disappointment chips a little more away of my hope and belief. If I crack open the door to the serious emotions, I’m afraid the door might be wiped out by a flood and I won’t be able to push it all back into the nice little compartment I’ve created. But the end appears near….

After the 3rd failed IVF late last year in the US, I wanted my next move to feel more definitive with win-win situation. My doctor proposed that I could attempt another IVF. Sometimes you get better quality eggs in another cycle, but I didn’t believe it was worth the financial and emotional risk. Which left me with three options: egg donor, surrogacy and adoption. Adoption is my last resort, so to speak. As a single woman in her early 40s, currently unemployed and unhoused I couldn’t even think of applying until I got those ducks firmly in a row, plus I could be looking at a process of 2-4 years. Surrogacy – I didn’t see the point, because the doctor keeps saying that he sees no reason why I can’t get pregnant. So that left donor egg. I struggled with it for a month. Since I am the only parent in this scenario, a large part of me really wanted that genetic angle. That’s my legacy, what could be carried on. Giving up that idea was tough. I also thought that now I would bring into the world a ‘different’ baby than the one I would have brought in using my own egg. A friend helped me to overcome this fear when she told me, “Margaret, your baby girl’s soul is up there waiting for you. It doesn’t matter how she comes – with your egg or someone else’s. It still the same soul.” I found that comforting, so after a month of dragging my feet, I opened up the egg donor database.

This egg donor database was established through my clinic, so it provided a limited group of 60 women, all between the ages of 22 and 33. The women are tested left, right and center for every possible health issue that impacts the reproductive system. The clinic provided an extensive family medical history, physical attributes, baby pictures and a full barrage of interview questions that explained the donor’s current job, likes/dislikes, personality traits, activities and why she’s a donor. It was more challenging to pick the egg donor than the sperm donor, because in this case I was looking for someone just like me. And let’s face it – it’s hard to find your own doppelganger, let alone someone close to that in a group of 60 women.

I finally picked one donor who turned out to be no longer available. Back to the drawing board. I thought I hit the jackpot with the second donor because she looked even more like me as a child. The clinic contacted her, she agreed and 48 hours later called back to say she had a family emergency and had to leave the state for 4-5 months. Ugh! Picking this donor was not a straight forward endeavor, but the third time was the charm.

Since I was traveling overseas, I decided to retrieve the eggs from the donor, fertilize and then freeze the embryos. There is relatively no difference in pregnancy success rates between live transfers and frozen transfers and freezing allows you to store the embryos until you are ready to go. So I authorized the medications for my donor and somewhere in the state of Colorado, a woman began injecting herself with hormones to ramp up egg production. I learned that the donor I selected had donated three times before (the max is six) and she also had 2 children of her own, so I was informed about her past history of egg production; ‘anticipate 18 eggs,’ the nurse told me. After having only ever produced 4 mature eggs myself, 18 would be like hitting the jackpot. So when the embryologist called to inform me that the total number of retrieved eggs was 35…well, I was a little dumb-founded.

One of the continual debates I had been having up to this point, was the ever present ‘Should I plan for the possibility of a man in my future? a.k.a. a man that wants children.”  It’s the never-ending, hope at the end of a stick, what if scenario. What if I meet some guy down the road (ok, at least in the next quarter mile of the road) and we hit it off, become a couple and he wants kids? This dilemma presented itself to me in the form of a choice: I had the option to freeze some eggs and then fertilize the remainder which would be frozen as embryos. This would cater for that What if? factor. But it really depended on the total number of eggs and considering that ultimately, when the eggs are chosen for fertilization – you don’t know which eggs are the best and will ultimately end up fertilized. So it’s a bit of a risk on all fronts. In the end, I chalked it up to “Carpe diem!” and fertilized the whole batch.

It’s amazing to think about the technology around fertility these days and what’s possible. At the same time, it’s also disturbing to watch nature take its course, implementing it’s own survival of the fittest and decrease the odds in diminishing returns.  My first report from the embryologist was the number of eggs retrieved (35) and the number of mature eggs that could be fertilized (25). By day three, the embryologist sent me a report outlining the number of eggs that had survived fertilization (19) and were now multiplying as expected. The cell count should divide and double each day. I was told how many cells each embryo had, as well as the level of fragmentation. Ideally, you want the embryos to have less than 20% fragmentation in this process. Of the 19 embryos, 17 were meeting the ‘good quality’ criteria for day 3. The goal is to take the embryos to blastocyst stage which usually occurs around day 5/6. It’s at this point the embryos are frozen.

My final report came on day 6. On this day, each of the embryos is given a grade just like the chicken eggs – which I actually find kind of funny. It’s a double grade – AA followed by AB, BA and BB. Obviously, AA is the best, but anything else in that grade range is generally considered good quality. By day 6, I had 13 lucky little embryos. Now they sit, frozen and waiting for a chance to become something. Given that the transplant will likely only involve 2 embryos at a go, there are possibilities ahead. It seems motherhood is fast becoming more of a reality! Liftoff this summer…stay tuned.

My new friend, Phen

I have been trying to lose weight as long as I can remember. I mean, it’s almost as if I was born and then said, yep – time to skip that breast milk, gotta shed a few. Oh wait, I wasn’t breastfed.  Can I blame my heavy weight on that? Or my family genetics? Bone density? Environment? The fast food industry? Probably a combination of multiple factors, but best not to dwell on that at the moment.

As an adult, I’d say it’s fair to say that I’ve hit all the major diet programs at one point or another – Jenny Craig, Nutri System, Weight Watchers, Atkins, etc. But I have never really been one for the extreme diets with miracle testimonials — eat all the grapefruit you want for 2 weeks (yeah, sounds fun) or eat according to your blood type (???huh?) or just take this pill once a day and watch the weight dissolve (can’t pull the wool over my eyes). I was indoctrinated to believe you watch the calories that go in and work on the energy you expend. The basics, right? Now of course, the fitness industry is much more complicated and has all kinds of directions and details that frankly, I don’t really care about. I just want to see results.

As part of my Weight Loss 101, I learned like a good little student that the safest and best way to lose weight is to watch what you eat and exercise. It’s up to you to make the difference and any drugs or surgeries like gastric bypass shouldn’t be considered, unless you are an extreme case. (And that definitely wasn’t going to be me.) So I’ve meandered on for years, doing it on my own, with the occasional help of diet programs and trainers and periods of success followed by a trip back up the scale.

Imagine my gasp of horror when my Endocrinologist recently said she wanted to put me on a weight loss drug. What?!? I wanted to look over my shoulder and see if there was someone else in the room. You’re talking to me? Umm…think again! I don’t need a drug. In fact, since January I’ve been working the program. Have a trainer and dietician. I am shedding weight slowly but reasonably. I am making progress, so how dare she suggest a weight loss drug! Given my future plans to bring forth life, my doctor wants me to be 15 pounds lighter before I get pregnant. Ok, I agree and that was my goal as well. Even though I haven’t been progressing as quickly as planned, all my recent blood work is showing great signs of progress and healthiness. She runs me through the drug, Phentermine. Describes how it used to be part of the dreaded duo Phen-Phen, but the other Phen was the bad one, causing all those nasty heart murmurs. Hmm. It’s always bad when you don’t have the right partner. I agree to do a trial run for a month.

First day, boom! Didn’t think it was possible, but my energy level definitely shifted up a whole notch. Not to jitteriness, but a noticeable difference with more focus. Also completely lost my appetite — like it currently doesn’t exist; Like I have to ask myself, ‘Have I eaten in the last 2 hours?’ and force myself to eat when not hungry – ALL the time. Oh, and a bit of an issue with restless sleep at night. My dietician was concerned. At our session, we looked up the drug. Yep, lots of great amphetamines in Phentermine (is that why they sound so similar?). No wonder I’m feeling more…vibrant. (Sounds better than gassed up or high or on speed.) The question is how much this can impact my thyroid or throw it out of whack, but my dietician agreed we give it a chance  – if I remembered the importance of eating regularly and maintaining healthy nutrition. OK, deal.

So I’m just about two weeks in now. Headed to the gym today. Hopped on the scale. I’ve officially lost 18 pounds since late January! 2-3 pounds in the last week. The slow going of one pound a week seems to have been sped up by my friend, Phen. Of course, I’m feeling elated and trying not to feel like a cheater by using the drug. It’s not all a bed of roses. It is weird to never have an appetite or have your stomach grumble. When I start to feel the slightest bit hungry it actually catches me by surprise and I’ve never had the problem of having to REMEMBER to eat. Who would have thought? But there is no miracle cure and my friendship with Phen is short-lived. If I want to succeed after that, I have to be eating right. Complete lifestyle change. Yada, yada, yada.

Oh happy day! I’m still going to celebrate. 18 pounds in 14 weeks is not too shabby. It’s funny because in the past people have sometimes said, “oh, you look good. You look like you lost weight.’ When I haven’t done a damn thing and I’ve probably gained weight versus lost it. And now that I have actually lost some decent weight, nobody has really noticed, except for me. Oh, and my friend Carol. But it’s all good. Progress, slow and steady.

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