IVF Unicorn

It has been forever. There is so much that I had meant and still intend to do with this site: I want to some more resources and information about fertility treatments in Israel, share some more of my personal story and allow it grow as source of support for women and couples dealing with infertility. If only my day had I few extra hours, sigh….

Despite all the various things demanding my time and attention I felt that this story was one that needed to be shared. I need to take you back to November 2014, I was starting my tenth week of pregnancy after 2 1/2 years in treatment. Tommy and I were meeting with the doctor and he was writing up our release papers from the clinic- I could hardly believe that we were saying goodbye.
“We’ll see you in a couple of years,” I said.
“Maybe, you won’t need me,” he replied.

I didn’t think much of it at the time, probably shrugged and guessed it was possible. I was so thrilled that we were finally in a pregnancy that seemed to be sticking I almost forgot how hard the process had been. As walked out, I felt certain that getting there was worth every part of the difficult journey and that I would repeat it in a second. This certainty accompanied me throughout the pregnancy and well into my first weeks of motherhood. I was elated to be  holding my daughter and I knew that I wanted another one. The sooner the better. Now, right now.

As is often case with things like emotions, and oh hormones, everything soon changed. With every milestone she hit, there was a slight pull at my heart, a sinking fear, that if I did indeed want to have another child it would mean returning to the clinic and once again subjecting myself to all that was involved in those treatments. That’s when I started to think twice. As my daughter became toddler, started walking and demanded way more attention, I couldn’t imagine carving out the emotional or physical strength that IVF would demand. Obviously, people do it, but I could not figure out  how to make it work. On the other hand, I am 38 years old.

This all coincided with people making comments like, “maybe this time you won’t need IVF,”  or “maybe it will just happen.” Yeah, maybe. For the most part I had to ignore these comments, because they were more than unhelpful. I felt anxious, stressed. I yearned for a different situation that was mostly out of my control.  We did a few ultrasounds after the pregnancy and not much had changed: ovarian cysts, fibroids and all.

In a not too surprising turn of events, my doctor’s attitude had changed since our last encounter. When I met with him this past July and expressed my ambivalence about returning to treatments, he cautioned me not to wait to long making a decision. “One day you’ll want another one, a sibling for your daughter,” he predicted, “the chances were not high that you would get pregnant in your fourth round of IVF, you got lucky. It gets much harder as you get older.” What happened to “maybe you won’t need me next time?”

Turns out, he should  have stuck with his initial assessment, because about a month after leaving his office I was “spontaneously pregnant”- that’s what they call it when there is no medical intervention.

When I told a friend who had gone through IVF and was pregnant with her first, she referred to me as an “IVF unicorn,” you hear about them, but nobody actually knows one. Who knows how or why it worked this time? I have my theories and the internet will confirm all of them. It’s a miracle.

I’m sharing this story for a few reasons. Some people may be comforted by this story, doctors don’t have all the answers. Sometimes things just happen because they do. I always want to offer people a glimpse into my feelings as we dealt with the questions of how or if we would have another child. For those facing infertility at any stage- 1st, 2nd or 5th child- it is always a mix of emotions and an incomprehensible challenge. There is not one way that works for everyone, nor a single guarantee.  I tell you this because I have been there and I know.



Sometimes the Wait is too Long

Part of the difficulty with infertility is that you don’t know when it will end. You hope and you envision the moment that you hold your child in your hands, but there is no crystal ball with the answer. As you wait you know that other members of your family are waiting hoping  and praying along with you. It is even more difficult when distance makes for the occasional visit and then the treatments prevent you from traveling when you would otherwise hop on a plane.

Unfortunately, sometimes they don’t live to see your dreams realized. Over the past year, Tommy’s Grandfather and now my Bubbe both passed away. They were both remarkable in their own ways.

The following is what I wrote to be shared at her funeral:

A few years before I moved to Israel I took a short road trip with Bubbe. We went to one of her favorite places, Atlantic City, I was the driver.  Now this was before the days of GPS and there was a mistake in my written directions and so we arrived four hours after leaving Philadelphia. I was frustrated at myself for ruining the trip.  She knew better, we spent most of the day in the car there and back talking about life and trading jokes. Soon after I received  a birthday card from her, she wrote”I enjoyed spending time with you. You are a terrific driver.”
Over the years, I learned many things from Bubbe, as a child I quickly discovered the value of bargain at the supermarket and  the importance of making certain that you were not over charged at the cashier- a refund of 35 cents was worth a 10 minute wait at the customer service counter.
As I got older I discovered Bubbe’s patient wisdom and confidence that things have a way of working out. “Toby, there’s a lid for every pot!” she’d tell me. It’s not that she brushed off the challenges, she just had a firm belief that things come together as and when they should. Eventually, you reach Atlantic City just make sure you enjoyed the ride.
As can be expected, it was not easy to live so far apart and remain up to date on each other’s lives. We bridged the distance through letters, phone calls and occasional visits- she made three trips to Israel since I made Aliyah and danced at my wedding at 90-years-young. Amazingly,I never felt apart from her and always knew she was a phone call away, each time I’d call she’d excitedly greet me “Tobila! How are you?”.
Last year I received a Birthday card from her that sums it all up:
“I know this idea may seem baffling and new,
but know what? Your Grandma’s ‘been there, done that,’ too.
So when your young life isn’t going as planned,
Talk to your grandma- She’ll sure understand. She”s got lots of love and good counsel to give. She’ll be on your side for as long as you live.
She wrote at the bottom: “Keep up the good life, with that special guy.”
 Everyone who knew and loved her, knows that Bubbe was one- of-a-kind. She was the matriarch of our family. Her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren will each take with them a piece of her wisdom, patience, humor and special energy.  יהי זכרה ברוך- May her memory be a blessing.

Lessons of Another Year

Way back in June I had planned to spend my summer blogging away. I wanted to share lots of anecdotes and thoughts with you all about our experiences. It all remains on my to-do list because this summer the war, my freelance work at The JerusalemBlueprint and visits from many friends and family members left me with little time to keep up with writing here. Guess it will have to wait until next year.

I could not let the new year pass without sharing something, but it will not begin to compare with what I wrote last year. Though last year is where I want to start as it’s been a year, nearly two, since we first began IVF.  I’ve stopped counting how long ago we started to trying to conceive. It goes without saying that all of this has influenced nearly every aspect of our lives both as individuals and as a couple.

Here is a short list of observations and lessons from the past year:

Communication: I have found our experience with infertility to be a mixed blessing of sorts, because as difficult as it has been, through the process Tommy and I learned communicate with one another in a way that I’m not sure we could have done otherwise. We have learned how to talk about complicated, emotional, and difficult issues and trust that the other person will listen. Most important we have learned to love right through all the trials and I feel privileged to have him as my partner.

Control: I’ve always been a bit of a klutz- Tommy calls me “tipsy Toby”- so leave it to me to end up cutting my head open and needing stitches while on complete bed rest. You’d think it be easy enough to just stay in bed and take it easy, but somehow I manage to turn that into an accident. It all goes to show you, how little control we have over the things that we have to deal with in life. Arriving at  the realization that many things are out of my hands ceased to be scary and instead I found it to be both refreshing and liberating.

Change: While the laws of inertia make it easy to stay the course, at times it is important to pause and consider a different approach, or maybe even a slightly different goal. Change does not always come easy and like most things it is both a risk and a process. I have discovered both the challenges and the benefits of change.

Hope: This word is the scariest word for a person dealing with infertility. When should you be hopeful? How do you temper your hope with realistic expectations? These questions apply to many different situations and over the past few days I have heard people express the wish that the upcoming year will be better than the previous.This tricky emotion allows us to push forward and believe that with a bit of effort the future can hold something better. I’ve learned that I do not need to ignore or qualify this feeling but rather embracing my hope helps me persevere through the challenges.

I enter this year taking all that I have learned with me and excited for the new lessons that lie ahead.

A Minor Nuisance

Bureaucracy, emotions, current events,your body and even the weather may become obstacles when going  through fertility treatments. If only we could anticipate and control all those “things” that come up in life and prevent us from getting the job done. Two years of treatments have taught me that some things are beyond my control and that realization is often a relief.

After both consulting with a new doctor and some deliberation, we decided to move forward with a new round of IVF. Everyone seemed to be telling us the same thing, it just takes time and keep at it. Even Dr. Google’s resource of choice concurred: IVF is effective in dealing infertility related to endometriosis. Still, I wanted to be sure that we had weighed all our options and I had heard good things about the Center for the Treatment of Endometriosis  at Tel Hashomer hospital. If anyone was going to have “the magic answer” it would be them.

Early this morning I left our apartment and thanks to the brilliant programmers at moovit I made it to the hospital complex(though finding the clinic within the hospital complex is an entirely different challenge). As my bus pulled into the hospital’s entrance my phone rang. My appointment had been cancelled; the doctor who I was scheduled to see would be attending the funeral of one of the soldiers who was killed in Gaza.

Given that I had traveled in from Jerusalem, I asked if I could see another doctor,but the secretary confirmed that there was no one else available. I hung up the phone mildly annoyed – another delay would cost us this month. Thank you Hamas. Then I took pause to comprehend the situation. The violence over the past few weeks has killed hundreds of people: civilians and soldiers. Living in Jerusalem, I feel safe and can only pray that we find a way out of this violent and painful moment. I am extremely lucky and incredibly thankful. Life is not lived in a vacuum and so it goes with fertility treatment: they move forward or are called to stop by both the mundane and the exceptional events.

On my way back to Jerusalem I picked up some supplies to donate to soldiers who are risking their lives. In the scheme of things, schlepping to Tel Hashomer and back was only a minor nuisance.


Returning to the Routine

This time is different, or at least I am experiencing in a new way. Over the past 13 years I’ve been through a number of cycles of violence between Israel and its neighbors. I don’t spend too much energy debating how it should be handled because I don’t have a good answer. Like most Israelis I do my best to continue with my life and pray that an enduring and peaceful resolution can be reached.

As a resident of Jerusalem, my daily routine continues: I continue to work and socialize almost as usual. Yes, I make sure that I know about safety precautions and the nearest bomb shelters when I am away from my home, but for the most part my life continues. When I hear a siren indicating that rockets have been launched in the direction of Jerusalem, I make my way to the shelter and wait until I can safely return to whatever I had previously been doing. I’m not suggesting that it is easy and certainly not ideal, but I, like many Israelis, continue to continue. People still go out to pubs and events – though a few larger events have been postponed or canceled due to safety concerns – there are still tourists on their summer vacations, and the World Cup is part of daily conversations. There is a real effort placed on maintaining as much of a normal routine as possible.

My routine involves IVF treatments and those continue as before but they may be my biggest challenge in dealing with this outbreak of violence. My Facebook feed is full of comments by parents forced to wake their sleeping children in the middle of the night to bring them to the safety of a bomb shelter. There is a part of me that is grateful to have been spared the fear of parent who finds themselves apart from their child at the sound of a siren. Still, the fear and violence affects my experience in fertility treatments. I fear the day that when I have to rush my child to safety.

Optimism and hope are what push me forward through the hardships of IVF. It pushes me through the stress of the treatments and allows me to see beyond my immediate situation. Unfortunately, it is precisely these two feelings that are most difficult maintain while standing in a bomb shelter. I do hope to bring a child into the world, but I’m concerned about the world that he or she would enter. Optimism is hard to maintain given the daily news cycle. Devoting significant energy to creating life seems trivial amidst the violence.

I return to the IVF clinic accompanied by two prayers: that this IVF cycle will be met with success and that my children will inherit a world where peace is routine.

For My Birthday

People who know me well have probably picked up on two things: I love to celebrate my birthday and I seek meaning in the numbers associated with each year. Both became more pronounced when I realized that anywhere outside the United States my date of birth is written 5/6/78 – I’ve yet to get over how unique that is and it makes me feel pretty cool. I went a bit overboard in the year 2012, on my 34th birthday, I insisted that a toast be made at both 9:00am and 9:00pm, thereby associating and celebrating all the single digits with related to my birthday.

The Hebrew language makes these associations all the more interesting because each Hebrew letter has a numerical value and adding significance to the birthday. Many people know that 18, Chet and Yud,  spell chai meaning life.  I know some of you believe this to be nonsense but I have observed these numbers playing out in my life. Take for example the number 28, its Hebrew letter equivalent is Kaf and Chet,  which form koach (strength); the year after that birthday was difficult and I needed a good amount of strength to push through. My favorite is 32, Lamed and Bet, lev (heart). Tommy and I met when he was 32 and I was 32 when we married. Maybe this is all about self-fulfilling prophecies, but either way I enjoy it.

All this brings me to this year, today, my 36th birthday- 18 is life and so 36 is double life. No, that is not a plea for twins and yes, I do know the risks of playing around with fertility drugs. Usually my birthday celebrations are quite standard: food, cake, wine …. This year, however, we’ll be doing things a bit differently as Tommy and I will spend a good portion of today trying to get pregnant. This is all absent of any romance you might imagine because this process involves: fasting, an IV, anesthesia, a couple of doctors, quite a few nurses, bed rest and mostly patience. It was not the celebration that I  had envisioned, but my body calls the shots on this one.

Tommy and I celebrated a few days early and I may arrange a belated birthday related event- with daily visits to the fertility clinic this past week I have  not found the head space or energy to put it together. For now, I am just focusing on today, this moment and all the hope and potential it holds.


*******Note to readers: Normally, my posts describe events that have already transpired and I don’t anticipate that changing moving forward. I felt a need to share colliding of events because they could not be ignored. This is not an invitation to ask if I am pregnant or if it worked. I will let you all know, at some point. For now send good vibes and happy thoughts.