Archive | August, 2011

What’s inside

24 Aug

I have been thinking a lot lately about this beautiful post that a friend of mine wrote recently. I spent a few years focusing on what is on the outside — federal politics, community activism, advocacy journalism, social justice. But the last year has been such an inward-focused period of time for me. I have literally been focusing on such thrilling matters as cervical fluid, basal temperature, follicle count, sperm motility and egg quality. I also spent a lot of time in my home office, finishing my coursework and my final paper for my MA in Women’s Studies. So I went from years of public activism to a sudden focus on private study and fertility treatments. In doing so, my relationship with activism has taken on a new meaning and a new urgency.

Some lessons that I am learning:

1. Pain is pain. There’s no sense trying to prioritize one oppression over another. Feelings of loss, grief, pain and injustice are entirely subjective. And they are all valid.

2. Our bodies are mysterious. We can’t always tell them what to do. My struggle with infertility has given me a window into what trans people and people with chronic illnesses or disabilities must go through. It’s incredibly frustrating when your heart and your brain can’t will your body into submission.

3. My family is as big as the whole community. My wife and I have literally been overcome by the kindness and compassion that we have been offered by friends and family throughout this journey. We have a big cheering section behind us and many soft places to fall. This is the magic of chosen family. We are so very fortunate.

4. We struggle now, because so many struggled before us. Thanks to the dogged determination and hard work of queer activists over the last 30 years, we were able to get legally married. We share an extended benefits plan that helps alleviate the costs of fertility treatments. If I give birth to a baby, both of our names would go on the birth certificate. We can both legally adopt a child — and in fact the Children’s Aid Society in our city is leading the continent in its proactive recruitment of prospective queer parents.

5. There is so much left to fight for. IVF isn’t publicly covered in our province or in most of the country. Trans people have uneven and unequal access to health care and gender identity is not recognized in federal and provincial human rights laws. Queer kids face bullying and discrimination in publicly funded Catholic schools (in all schools actually, but the fact that public money goes to homophobic religious education is particularly appalling). Gay seniors face an uncertain future when they must enter long-term care facilities. There is much work to be done.

So I am going to attribute this latest period of obsessive monitoring  of bodily functions with giving me a renewed understanding of the fact that the personal sure is political. I am writing this blog so someone else will find it and realize that they are not alone. Let’s struggle together in solidarity. May our grief lay the groundwork for change.

A sad anniversary

23 Aug

At this time last year, my wife and I were back from our honeymoon in California, flush with possibility and hope. We immediately met with a fertility doctor and on the weekend of Ottawa Pride, we did our first insemination. I remember how I felt on the morning of the Dyke March — giddy, apprehensive, a little shell-shocked. I was also suffering from caffeine withdrawal and wondering how I would celebrate Pride without at least a couple of beers. My wife and I watched all of the queer couples with kids and wondered if a year later we would be marching with our own baby in a stroller or strapped to one of our chests.

And here we are a year later, our hearts heavy, unsure if that dream will become a reality. We really don’t know what the future holds. Tonight there is a Rainbow Family event happening in a local park, but I can’t bring myself to go. I would feel like the odd one out, staring at other people’s children and wishing they were my own.

The chill of autumn has started to set in and I find myself mourning a lost summer. A summer that started with incredible hope and dissolved into grief and sadness. A summer where I struggled to fall asleep every night and get out of bed in the morning. I know that we can never know what tomorrow will look like, much less a year from now. Jack Layton’s death has certainly reminded me of that. But I am struggling to remain hopeful and optimistic given how much we have both been struggling.

Maybe we will be a family by next year, next summer, next Pride. I hope so.

RIP Jack Layton

22 Aug

Please permit me a diversion from my usual fertility talk.

Like thousands of Canadians, I am absolutely gutted to hear about the death of Jack Layton. He was an incredibly principled, charismatic, compassionate politician. As a long-time city councilor and community activist, he defended gays against the 1981 bathhouse raids in Toronto, supported equal marriage from day one (and at his own wedding to the incredible Olivia Chow), promoted trans rights, fought for affordable housing and stood up for universal health care. He was a hero in every sense of the word, propelling the NDP from virtual oblivion to Official Opposition status in just a few short years. By all accounts, he was a kind, down-to-Earth, obsessively hardworking man.

And two days before he died, he wrote all of us a letter:

My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.

Rest in peace Jack. We promise to follow your advice and to never give up the fight for a fairer, kinder, more just Canada. You were the best Prime Minister we never had.


19 Aug

One day into my action plan and I am already feeling better. I thought that the act of writing down what I am eating would make me feel like crap. But so far, I feel great. I am already starting to see patterns in the way I eat (usually a snack every 90 minutes during the work day). I have already started tuning in more to what my body likes to eat more. Last night’s Indian food gave me indigestion so I didn’t have leftovers for lunch today. And I chose not to have any wine or beer last night, even though we had it in the house. I just didn’t feel like it. I didn’t want the inevitable headache and I wanted to be well rested enough this morning to go to yoga. Which I did.

This form of intuitive eating really works for me. Rather than strict portion control, I would rather tune into what makes my tummy ache and what makes me feel amazing. Keeping a food diary is reminding me that I tend to eat less vegetables later in the week when it is getting close to grocery day. I eat lots more fruit because fruit tends to be more portable and requires less prep. I rarely make salads because they often go wilty. So I am planning to get back into the habit of making heartier salads on Sunday (coleslaw, tabbouleh, quinoa salad) that will last for most of the week. I am also going to make some bran muffins and hard boil some eggs. Nutritious, portable snacks are always a great idea.

Anyway, I don’t want to become one of those bloggers who obsessively monitors writes about what they eat. Diets and workouts are very boring conversation topics. But being mindful of how food makes me feel and making sure I get the nutrition I need to be active, healthy and sleep well is a positive step that is  fueling my healing process.

Plan of action

18 Aug

So, in a move typical to me and my Type A personality, I am putting forward a plan of action to try and pull myself out of this slump. Here goes:

1. Continue with some sort of significant exercise every other day. This will include gym workouts, yoga and lunchtime Zumba once per week. Fun! I have been trying to find a personal trainer, but to no avail so far.

2. Keep a food diary for the next couple of weeks. I am going to do my best not to judge myself for what or how much I am eating. But I would like to keep track of my eating habits, so I get get a sense of what I’ve been putting in my mouth. I will not count calories or follow any iron clad rules.

3. See a nutritionist. Appointment booked for August 31st. See if I can tweak my (already healthy) eating habits in a way that feels sustainable for me.

4. Continue cooking and eating at home as much as possible. Eat lots of fruits and veggies.

5. Avoid the scale. Pretend it doesn’t exist. Just gauge my progress by how I am feeling and how my clothes are fitting.

6. Keep going to therapy. I love my therapist. Try and honour the fact that I have been through significant trauma and stress over the last year. Not to mention the hormonal experimentation associated with IVF. I am not a super-human. Merely human.

7. Allow for the possibility that I may need to postpone the next attempt if I am still not feeling emotionally solid.

8. Take three weeks off work when we do IVF the second time. Use a combination of sick and vacation leave to give myself space to be emotional and distracted. Treat it like a staycation.

9. Learn how to meditate. I recently bought a package of classes at a yoga studio that offers a meditation course twice a week. In September, I would like to try it out.

10. Walk everywhere. Take my darned bike out of the garage and use it. Enjoy the beautiful weather while it is still here.

And perhaps most importantly of all — love and appreciate my sweet wife and all of our friends and family for supporting me through this. Yesterday was a dark day. Today seems just a little bit brighter.


The weight, part 2

17 Aug

When I woke up this morning, I really thought that this post would be about the delightful dinner we had last night. Two dyke mamas came over with their adorable 4-month baby and gave us lots of information on the public adoption process in our city. These two amazing women adopted an older brother/sister pair a few years ago. They intimately understand the challenges of adopting through Children’s Aid and they gave use so much to think about.

But then I made the grave mistake of getting on a scale this morning. You see, I was feeling pretty great about myself. I was still sore from my first-ever Z.umba class last night. I have been feeling proud of myself for doing some sort of significant or strenuous exercise four times per week. I’ve been cooking a lot more — including a tonne of fruits and vegetables and lots of quinoa. I was feeling pretty foxy, so I decided to see if I had lost any of the grad school / IVF weight.

And I was shocked. You see either the cheap piece-of-shit scale we bought is busted, or I have put on another 10 pounds in the last month. The number I saw on the scale was a horrifying number that represents me at my heaviest, five years ago. The last time I weighed this much I was working my way out of a series of terrible relationships. I was sedentary, medicated for depression and spending far too much time in front of the TV. I eventually pulled myself out of it, by joining a gym, eating intuitively and focusing on feeling good about myself.

That’s what I have been trying to do for the last couple of weeks. The reality is that in the last month I dealt with the trauma of IVF failure, took high doses of progesterone for two weeks, sobbed like crazy and spent a lot of time feeling terrible about myself. The last couple of weeks have been better. They have also confirmed that I should stay far away from scales if I want to preserve my mental health.

That being said, I am alarmed about the fact that I seem to have lost control of my body. This too is another symptom of being poked, prodded, medicalized and evaluated. I have internalized the message that my body is somehow defective, broken, useless.

The irony of course is that I totally talk the talk about fat acceptance and health at any size. In fact I triumphantly posted this article on the other day. I am totally on board with the idea that weight is not necessarily the only predictor of health. That you can be fat and fit at the same time. That the diet industry is evil and that body shame is much more dangerous than a few extra pounds.

But as of this morning, I am seriously considering going on some sort of diet. It pains me to admit this, but I really feel like I need to shed the weight I gained during IVF #1. I want to feel like I have returned to some sort of a baseline before I go and do this again. I am going to continue with all of the awesome exercise I have been doing. And I will keep going to therapy to try and put all of this in perspective. But I am tired of surrendering my body to the medical establishment and to grief. I want to feel like I can make changes to my body myself, as part of a conscious decision.

I will start by calling my Employee Assistance Program. I believe that they have nutritionists on staff. I would much rather develop a loose individually geared plan of action, rather than join a commercial diet plan. I also don’t want to plunge myself into further depression by restricting all of the deliciousness in my life. I love to cook and to eat. I don’t want to damage my relationship with food which is positive on the whole.

In the meantime, I will give myself props for the ways my muscles ache from yesterday’s workout.


14 Aug

It’s 10:30 am on a Sunday. My wife is fast asleep, after going to bed at 4 am. She is a DJ and played at a wedding last night. I went to bed at midnight and was up by 9 am. I have had the pleasure of lounging in a silent house while she sleeps. I made myself coffee and eggs. I read a couple of blogs. I am contemplating heading to the farmer’s market before I wake my wife and we meet some friends for dim sum. This afternoon, we will do the grocery shopping, go to the gym, cook and make-out. With grad school done, my non-working hours are completely unburdened. My chief concern these days is how many exercise sessions I can fit in amid a hectic and rich social schedule.

This is what life was like when my wife and I first started dating. Before I decided to do my MA part-time while working. Before we embarked on a year of fertility treatments, clinic visits, injections and two-week waits. It’s comforting to know that we will become parents some day, one way or another. But perhaps the universe has aligned things, so we have no choice but to enjoy this unburdened period of childlessness for a while longer.

When we first started trying to get me pregnant, I figured I would finish my MA course work while pregnant and write my thesis while on mat leave. It was a ridiculous plan and in many ways I am glad it didn’t work out that way. Life is much less of a juggle these days. We hope to replace this silence and stillness with early morning wake-ups, baby giggles, trips to the museum and epic fort-building contests in the middle of our living room. But for now, it’s nice to feel like evenings and weekends are wide open.

My grad school graduation is at the end of October. I sincerely hope that I am pregnant by then. It would be so cool to graduate with a little one in utero. But the reality is that I have no idea what the next few months or years are going to bring.

In the meantime, I am going to wake my sleepy wife and start our day.



More bad news, I’m afraid

10 Aug

Met with a couple of doctors from the fertility clinic today. It seems that they are just as shocked by our first disastrous IVF attempt as we were. None of the tests leading up to retrieval day indicated that anything was going wrong.

A couple of bizarre things happened. First of all, they only retrieved eggs from my left side. It appears that all of the follicles on my right were empty. So it’s possible that my right ovary just doesn’t produce eggs. The other shocking thing — get this — is that my eggs did something strange that the embryologists have NEVER SEEN BEFORE. And they have handled thousands of eggs. Apparently the liquid inside was “sticky” when they tried to fertilize. I can’t possibly use the proper scientific terms to explain what they found, but apparently my eggs were unresponsive in a way that HAS NEVER BEEN WRITTEN ABOUT IN SCIENTIFIC LITERATURE.

(Okay, enough with the screaming capital letters, sorry.)

They said we had two options — try another drug protocol or attempt a “natural” cycle” where they wouldn’t stimulate me, they would just retrieve the one egg that I produce in a given month. A natural cycle is said to lead to improved egg quality. But the odds are much worse overall. We decided to try one more stimulated IVF/ICSI cycle with a new drug protocol. The hope its that the more eggs we get, the higher chance that at least one will be a keeper. If we encounter the same egg problem after our second cycle, we will likely throw in the towel on IVF for a while. We’ll move to investigating public adoption and approaching a known donor about “contributing” on a monthly basis. It’s possible that my body just hates all of this poking and prodding.

It’s also entirely possible that I have poor egg quality and will not be able to get pregnant. Period. Unless we consider an egg donor, which seems like an insane process to navigate.

So that’s what we know. We try again next month. This all feels a little too heavy to handle right now.


A muscle

8 Aug

First of all, to the small handful of readers who actually know me in real life — fret not. I am not spending every day in a puddle of tears, though I do need to wipe my eyes every few hours. It’s just that this process has brought my heart so much closer to my skin. I feel transparent and highly visible. But I am still rooted and I am not going to blow away any time soon. I keep laughing (through tears) with my wife, saying “all these people are being so nice to us, it just makes me cry more!” But it’s really true. We have been enveloped by so much kindness and love lately, it’s overwhelming. It makes me think that maybe this process was designed to strengthen my heart muscle so it’s ready for the rigors of parenting. I am also strengthening my body. It feels so good to be back to a regular gym and yoga practice. With grad school and fertility treatments out of the way, I suddenly have so much more time on my hands. For now, I am trying to be thankful for the gift of time. I know it’s fleeting.


4 Aug

I have spent the last day wallowing in a mild state of anxiety and fear. I keep thinking: what if my eggs are no good? What if I really am infertile? What if I can’t carry a pregnancy to term?

Then my thoughts turn to: what if I will need to find an egg donor? How would I even begin to ask this of someone? Who could I ask? What would it feel like to carry a baby that isn’t biologically related to me? What if it was an anonymous donor? Could I handle that?

And then I start panicking over finances — how many thousands of dollars is this going to cost us? How much debt can we carry without becoming overburdened? Will we end up majorly in the hole with no baby to show for it? How far are we willing to go and for how long?

Then I wonder if our desperation will lead us to take medical risks. What happens if I get pregnant with twins? Triplets? Will I be on bed rest for weeks? Will we end up with premature babies with health problems who will have to spend weeks in the NICU?

I am trying to take each day as it comes, but it’s hard not to get caught in this stressful spiral.