Thursday, March 27, 2014

Hollywood Makes it Look so Damn Easy!

Ever notice how little focus Hollywood puts on infertility issues? There have been a few scattered examples over the years, but I had to do some digging to find them. Tina Fey has gone to the well twice for comedic effect, with Baby Mama and 30 Rock. Friends addressed it, somewhat inaccurately, with Monica and Chandler (the writers didn’t seem to quite know how it all worked – biologically or legally – and, despite some minor setbacks, adoption went way too smoothly for them).  Some shows go a little deeper, like Sex and the City, but even that had the inevitable happy TV ending. I’ll grant that How I Met Your Mother didn’t resort to the happy miracle resolution with Robin, but it also used only an episode or two to deal with it.

In my research, I came across a 1998 Lifetime movie, called The Baby Dance, which deals with the cliché of the wealthy infertile couple adopting/buying a baby from the poor fertile couple, but with a disturbing twist ending. 1989’s Immediate Family is another “adoption gone awry” film. Then there’s the absurdly funny, Raising Arizona, returning to the “comedy that is infertility” route. The only film I could find that deals with a couple dealing with IVF was the UK film, Maybe Baby, but that again went the comedy route. Where is the true depiction of the struggle and the pain, and fears of never having the family you dream of?

Of course, when it comes to a situation like mine, the examples are even more rare. Jennifer Lopez’s film, The Back-up Plan, and the TV series, Oh Baby! both deal with single women who decide the time is right to start a family on their own. But, in both cases, the conception part gets resolved very quickly (Lopez gets pregnant with twins on the first IUI treatment - oh, and meets her dream guy, by the way. Not that I'm bitter.), allowing the producers to move on to the much more comedically “fertile” ground of pregnancy.

And let’s face it, we all know what a laugh riot pregnancy is – at least in Hollywood. The list of films and TV shows that mine pregnancy for laughs is too long to even mention. Accidental pregnancy abounds in Hollywood (on screen I mean; not meant to be a slight on anyone’s moral character). Conception generally revolves around one-night stands and illicit teen relationships. But the real comedy goldmine is those 40 weeks of hormones! If a show/film does go the drama route, again it seems more likely that they will focus on the pregnancy, and what the expectant mom/parents deal with as the delivery gets closer. Frankly, if it weren’t for the fact that “sex sells,” I’m not sure any of us would even know where babies come from, if we had to rely on Hollywood to tell us!

Accidental late-life pregnancy seems to be an especially popular theme in family sitcoms. Because, of course, once the kids get too old, they stop being cute, and there’s less for the parents on the show to do. So, couples over 40 in sitcom land are constantly getting pregnant (lookin’ at you, Steven and Elyse Keaton! And everyone before and since). This is, of course, usually timed near the beginning of a season so that the May sweeps finale can feature the birth (usually involving some kind of delivery trauma that gets happily resolved in 22 minutes plus commercials). The convenience of this strategy, obviously (other than ratings), is to allow the baby to age four years in the four-month summer hiatus. Because, as we know, once the novelty of Mom and Dad’s “We’re too old for this sh*t” shtick wears off, babies are boring on TV. But, that’s an entry for another day.

So, where is the story that shows the true emotional, psychological and, ahem, financial toll that infertility takes on women/couples? At this point, I should put in an honorable mention for one of my favorite cop shows, Flashpoint, a Canadian production that featured an episode that showed just how traumatizing the process can be. Unfortunately, the show then loses some points for going the cliché route by having the 40-something cop and his wife (parents of a 16-year-old) get unexpectedly pregnant, resulting in the time-honored complicated delivery. Although, I’ll allow that they did address the age thing a bit, and they managed to have the dad get shot on the day of the delivery, just to up the drama! So a bit of a departure from the norm.

Still, the world of infertility, and the women and men who fight a daily struggle to reach their dreams, is vastly underrepresented in Hollywood. What is the answer? I suppose it’s about finding compelling stories that audiences can connect to. Is that really so hard? There are so many compelling stories. So, is it that these stories are just not being written? Or are we too uncomfortable with talking about this sensitive aspect of life? I don’t know. Maybe I should stop griping and start writing. I am an aspiring screenwriter, after all. Maybe the answer to wondering when I’m going to see a film about the struggles of infertility is to just write one. But right now, I’m too busy actually trying to get pregnant, dammit!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Rage Against the Machine

Moods are a funny thing. Overall, I’d probably say that I’m a positive and even-keeled person. And I’m a pretty self-aware person as well. So, when I feel down, depressed or angry, I tend to examine and analyze everything I can think of until I hit on a reason for the mood. I’m not a big fan of “free-floating anxiety,” and it kind of pisses me off if I have to accept that as a reason for how I feel. I need to know. Some might say it’s stupid to look for a reason for a bad mood because finding it will just make the mood worse. But, from my perspective, the mood is already bad, and not knowing the reason doesn’t help you move past it. Actually, for me, the uncertainty is what makes the mood worse.

So then I have to go and start taking hormones. For the most part, I tend to feel that I don’t have much in the way of side effects from medication – OK, beyond the all-over body rash I get from Naprosyn and the occasional f***ed up dreams I get from Vicodin. But other than that, I don’t usually have too many issues with meds. So, at first I wanted to believe that I wasn’t having any real reaction to the various fertility meds I’ve been taking. That would be before I tore into my class for not raising their hands during attendance. Oh, and having a total meltdown over an Olympic hockey game.

First, the class. I went in one morning, and I knew I was in a bad mood. I even told the students that I was in a bad mood and they should not do anything to make it worse. I laughed it off, and so did they. Then I started taking attendance and the students just sat there, looking at me, and now acknowledging their names. I pretty much exploded, saying it was fine if they wanted to sit there like lumps and get marked absent. I didn’t care if they couldn’t put forth the effort to raise their hands. It wasn’t me who was going to fail. Yeah, so I overreacted a bit. At that point they really just sat and stared at me – it was clearly out of character for me, and they didn’t quite know how to react. I took a deep breath and just finished the attendance, although I did mutter, “It’s not like I didn’t warn you.”

I didn’t put that down to the hormones though. Probably because I didn’t want to. I don’t know what it is, but I guess I looked at it as a sign of weakness to admit that the meds could control my moods so strongly. I always have prided myself on my self-control, and didn’t like to admit that my control had slipped. I knew that I had gotten a little emotional in the past with the meds (like crying at TV commercials), but I had never experienced such anger.

The worst of it probably continued for about four days – alternating anger and depression. On one of those days, I had recorded the Women’s Gold Medal Final hockey game from Sochi. I had stuff to do that day, so I waited to watch it – I chose to watch the figure skating first, and then the hockey game later. I had been looking forward to this game between USA and Canada for the entire Olympics. But before I could watch it, I got a call from Dr. K’s office, and I had to go get some paperwork. I made it all the way home without finding out the score (even through a conversation about the Olympics on the bus). While I was waiting for the elevator in my building, though, I heard one of my building porters talking about the game and Team USA’s heartbreaking loss.

Completely illogically, my world fell apart. I got on the elevator and went upstairs, fighting tears. Walking from the elevator to my apartment, I punched the wall. I barely made it into my apartment before I started sobbing hysterically, cursing the fates, and throwing things. Seriously, I started throwing things over a hockey game. This lasted for a good twenty minutes or so. When I finally calmed down a bit, I took a long, hard look at what had just happened. I knew my reaction was astronomically out of proportion to the situation. And it was completely and utterly unlike me.

I finally had to acknowledge that it was a result of the hormones. And I surprised myself by not being disgusted with myself for being weak. I actually felt free. I had acted like a complete lunatic, but it wasn’t my fault! It was the hormones! What a relief! Although, God help me if this is a preview of what I’ll experience once I do get pregnant. Sheesh!

And lord knows what my students think of me at this point!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Rom-Com Theory

I’m very lucky to have a good group of friends – the “Inner Circle,” as they’ve come to be known throughout this process. When I’m stressing out and on the ledge, they can always talk me off with good sense and logic. And, the occasional theory.

In this case, the situation that put me on the ledge was finding out that Fairfax Cryobank is sold out of James Bond. I only have one vial left from my original order, and they need two to do the IVF (one serves as a backup). But, when I went to Fairfax’s website, I found out that there is a waitlist for that donor. I panicked. What the hell was I supposed to do now? I dragged out the old profiles from the Donor Party, and pulled out the one for the runner-up, the “Everyday Joe” from California Cryobank. I checked their site, and he has plenty of vials left. But I didn’t know if I should go ahead and order his vials, or start the process all over again, since there have been many new donors added.

There was no time for another Donor Party (I would need the sample next week), and I dreaded doing all the legwork of searching the profiles that I had to do last time. I talked to Keith, and he said, “Well, this guy was second right? So, if James Bond didn’t exist, you would have chosen him.” See, good logic. But, being me, I needed more input, so I put it to the Inner Circle in a private Facebook message. The response was unanimous. As my friend, Maria, put it: “Order Now!” But, my friend Tracy probably put it best: “Use the rom/com approach. It’s never the one she plans on, who looks perfect on paper. It’s that other guy, the dark horse, who turns out to be the one.”

And our Everyday Joe was definitely the dark horse in Sperm Madness. In fact, it had earned him the nickname, “Cinderella” because he was the underdog who made it all the way to the Championship Round. From one round to the next, he didn’t seem memorable, but every time he was pitted against an opponent, he always came out on top. So I decided that Tracy had the perfect view on it. James Bond looked great on paper, and he was the guy the bank staff swooned over. But Cinderella is “the Enduring Optimist” who “radiates positivity.” He’s tall and athletic and, while not possessed of supermodel looks, was an adorable kid.

Cinderella did have one thing working against him in the original head-to-head competition. His father had colorectal cancer at age 50. As I stated in the Sperm Madness entry, I had my concerns given Dad’s history. But, that may not be a factor. For this round of IVF, James Bond is the primary donor. They’ll only use Cinderella if something goes wrong with James Bond’s vial. But, if this IVF does not work, and we end up going the route of egg donation, then it becomes a non-issue. Cinderella will be the donor for egg donation, and my family medical history no longer matters. I’ve already told the coordinators that I want them to screen for a history of colorectal cancer, and I will reiterate that once we know we are going that route.

And who knows, maybe James Bond will pull it out in the end. He has one last chance to get the girl, as it were, before he has to give up the field to Cinderella. So, like the heroines of the Rom-Coms, I will trust in my friends’ advice and leave it up to the fates to decide who I “end up” with!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Specter of 9/11

I suppose that you wouldn’t expect a blog about a woman’s quest to have a baby would have an entry about September 11th. However, in my case, the two seemingly disparate topics are inextricably linked. After the attack at the World Trade Center, I worked for nearly six months as a Salvation Army volunteer at what came to be known as Ground Zero. It was a transformative experience in so many ways. I gained an incredible sense of fulfillment from being able to do my part to help in the relief effort, even if my part was just serving up food or sweeping the floor for eight hours one memorable night (I even got a somewhat condescending sweeping lesson from a supervisor in front of ABC anchor Peter Jennings).

That experience also led me directly to seek a new path, which resulted in my brief but fascinating Foreign Service career. That experience, in turn, led me directly to the Fulbright Classroom Teacher Exchange Program, which allowed me to teach in London for a year. From my time at Ground Zero, to my Foreign Service Experience, to my year in England, I grew a great deal as a person, and I made friends that I wouldn’t trade for the world. It’s a testament to the truth that incredible good can come from incredible evil.

But, of course, incredible evil comes on the heels of incredible evil as well. The evil that I’m talking about in this case is not the recognized evil of the lives lost on that day, but the lives lost since that day, and the men and women who continue to struggle with 9/11-related illnesses. No one wants to talk about it, but the truth is, the victims of September 11th may never be fully tallied. Dedicated people, like John Feal of the Fealgood Foundation, and the people behind the scenes at the 9/11 Health Registry continue to advocate for those who suffer every day.

That’s where these topics collide. I have mentioned the loss of my parents before, but I have not mentioned that there has been speculation about whether my mother’s uterine cancer could have been linked to the time she spent volunteering with my at Ground Zero. Given that she had no other risk factors, it was deemed a viable possibility, enough so that she was honored with her name on the 9/11 Responders Remembered Wall. Of course, it’s impossible to know for sure because cancer is such a complex disease and sometimes people just get sick. But, as more research is done, there seems to be more evidence that women’s reproductive cancers could be linked to Ground Zero toxins.

So then there’s me. I haven’t exactly stuck my head in the ground when it comes to 9/11 health issues. I know, for example, that my time down there did result in my now having mild asthma. But, I have to admit, I have shied away a bit from the health monitoring and screening. At the beginning, it was because I didn’t want anything to affect my medical clearance for the Foreign Service. Afterward, I told myself to register, but somehow I keep putting it off. Maybe I don’t want to acknowledge that I could become ill from my time as a volunteer. I had successfully ignored it for a while, until last week, when I got an email from a friend who is involved with the health registry. They are putting together a new survey for participants and are trying to decide if questions about women’s reproductive cancers, as well as fertility issues, should be included in the new survey.

Guess I can’t ignore it anymore. Could the fertility issues that I have experienced, like the low egg reserve, be linked to Ground Zero toxins? I asked Dr. K about it, and he said that he has never heard of a link before. Of course, that’s not definitive is it? The whole point of deciding whether to include these questions on the survey is to try to figure out if a link exists. Determining a causal relationship may be next to impossible, but if we can determine a pattern, then maybe, in time, something can be done. Of course, I don’t have that kind of time (in terms of childbearing years), and even if I could say today that my issues were related to Ground Zero toxins, it wouldn’t really change anything. Regardless of what caused these issues, they exist, and we just have to deal with them. I don’t think Dr. K would change the treatment – what would we change?

That said, the specter looms. Will I ever know for sure? Does it matter in the end? And, most importantly, would I have changed anything twelve years ago if I had known how things would turn out? I honestly believe the answer to all of those questions is no. I also believe that there is no value in dwelling in/on the past. Without a TARDIS, I can’t change it, even if I wanted to. And, I know, in my heart, I wouldn’t be the person I am, in the place I am, if everything (the good and the bad) had not gone exactly as it did.