Caring for the Heart

So it’s a go. Cardiac cath is scheduled at noon for my Dad today. I’m just hoping that everything will go smoothly and all the docs and nurses and anyone that takes care of him today do the best job that they can.

Ugh. I’m feeling so frustrated right now. Mostly because there is only so much I can do for my Dad at this moment other than just be there for him. The nurse in me wants to do more to help him but yet I don’t want to overstep my boundaries. Because believe me, when working the floors I absolutely HATED when visiting family members pulled out the “I’m a doctor”- or “I’m a nurse”- card, thinking that was going to scare me into making “triple”-sure I was doing the absolute correct thing.

But other than unrealistically flying Dad out to the best cardiology center in the US, I do have faith and confidence that he is getting the best treatment possible at this hospital at this exact time. The best I can do as a nurse is be there to explain to my Dad and Mom exactly what is going on and what to expect … basically be there to translate medical jargon into plain old-fashion English. That, and advocate for them exactly what their fears and concerns and needs are as a patient and his wife.

At the same time, poor Hubby has also been sick with a nasty cold. Which, if there was only more hours in the day, I would be babying him like he does for me when I’m sick. Unfortunately with yesterday being spent at the hospital, I’ve had no time to make him soup or hot tea and just generally be there for him. And I feel like such a horrible wife for that.

I bet y’all are saying … “WTF, Em? You advocate and care for your parents and Hubby, but you don’t advocate for yourself.” The past week (and previous posts) being prime example of not thinking of what’s the best thing for my own health.

Well, I have to tell you … and if you don’t know this by now … Nurses are notorious for not taking care of their own health. I think it’s in any person who chooses Nursing as a profession to care for others before caring for themselves. For me it’s not meant to be a self-sacrifice type of thing; it’s more that I feel that others needs appear to be more important and more urgent than my own. Then throw in the whole Catholic and Asian-American thing and it’s a golden opportunity for feeling the guilt.

Yes, I know it’s not always healthy. And I know that I do need to take care for myself before I can take care of anyone else. Every nurse gives that same schpiel to any of their co-workers (how’s that for the pot calling the kettle black?). But we’re a stubborn lot. We’re definitely a “Do as I say, not as I do” group.

I’m working on it though. This past year has been an exercise of learning to take care of myself. And think of my needs as a priority to others. I’m learning to say NO when I can’t take on anymore than I physically or emotional can. And I’m trying my darndest NOT to feel so damn guilty for doing so.

Right now? All my energy is focused on taking care of my Dad. Because that takes priority. Thanks for all your warm thoughts and prayers.

And if you can, say a quick one for Hubby, too. Because, he too, deserves the best.

Magic 8 Ball Predictions

The first draft of this post was actually quite upbeat and positive … how despite where I wanted to be in life by now, Mother Nature obviously decided to take a different path. And I was going to be okay with it. But then I had my follow-up appointment with my GYN today and well …

When I was little, I used to ask my mom for a sister. I desperately wanted to have someone to share a room with, not to mention sharing secrets and clothes and shoes (must have been all those after-school reruns of the Brady Bunch). What I knew little of back then was that my mom wasn’t able to have any more children after I was born. In fact, she was supposedly very lucky to even have any children at all, let alone my brother and me. She had such severe endometriosis that, back in the day, they didn’t think she would have much success with getting pregnant. Shortly after I was born, she had her hysterectomy to stop her endometriosis from getting any worse.

I was told the whole story when I was in high school, after having gone through yet another painful period. My mom asked me back then whether or not my cramps were bad enough that I’d want to go on birth control. Which, when I think of it now, was pretty progressive of her to do that … especially given the fact that we were Filipino (remember previous posts about how “private” we are?) and my mom was (and still is) deeply rooted in Catholicism (ahem … remember natural family planning?). Even back then, I had no inclination to be on the pill.

So my senior year in high school, a bunch of us were coming up with predictions for ourselves; kind of a “Magic 8 Ball” prediction in where we saw ourselves in ten years. Would we be successful in our careers? Would we be happily married? Would we have lots of kids? Some had said they’d be happily married with the 2.5 kids and the dog. Others said that they’d have a wildly successful career, yet single or divorced.

As for me … I can clearly remember saying that I would be happily married (“It is certain”) with a relatively successful job, but not one that I was completely passionate about (“Signs point to Yes”). And … having problems getting pregnant (“Outlook not so good”).

I’m sure it’s probably because by then I knew about my mom’s past medical history. But the other part of my prediction was that I would have at least one of my children before I was thirty. Thirty was the magic year because my mom and I were just about that many years apart and I absolutely HATED that there was not only the generational gap between us, but a cultural gap as well. I didn’t want to be so out of touch with my own children and therefore thought that by having them before thirty, I would be closer to their generation.

Well here I am, about to turn thirty-six this year and STILL childless.

And to top it off, I just had my follow-up appointment with my GYN today. The one to go over the results of my latest US, et al in regards to the increase in pain and bloating with each cycle. And well … as suspected, without doing any “looky-see” surgery, it appears that my endometriosis is back. So now it’s time to go back on Lupron. Back to being void from any emotion, except for the extreme highs or lows. Back to having no chance AT ALL at being pregnant. Basically, no ability to have any glimmer of hope. At least for the next three months. And then maybe another three months after that.

On an upswing … at least I won’t have any “oh geez … can you just kill me now because this must be what hell in a uterus feels like” pain for now.

It's the Most _____ Time of the Year

Hubby at a local bookstore wearing
an Emily knitted creation

Fill in the blank:

A) Wonderful
B) Stressful
C) Overwhelming
D) Heart-breaking

Trick question. Actually it’s all of the above.

Don’t get me wrong. I do love the holiday season. There is definitely something magical in the air this time of the year. But then there’s the feeling of being completely overwhelmed by what needs to be done before Christmas Eve. There’s putting up the decorations (still not done), sending out Christmas cards (uh, yeah … also not done), shopping for gifts (not even a third done), and then wrapping all the gifts (not even close).

If that’s not overwhelming enough, then the thought of heading out to the local mall to do some shopping is enough to send me over the edge in the stress department. Ugh. Just trying to find a parking spot gets my (already high) blood pressure rising. And then some people are just absolutely rude when you’re in the stores. I’m not talking about the salespeople either, if you catch my drift.

However outside of any type of shopping area, people are actually very friendly, very giving and very much in the holiday spirit. In fact, I actually enjoy going into work during this time of the year for multiple reasons (one of which I will explain a little later), especially because all the Christmas decorations are all up and there’s always Christmas music playing in our main foyer. Our department tends to do little holiday things, like “Secret Santa’s,” and ornament exchanges and even cube-decorating contests. Not to mention the constant stream of goodies that come in from different vendors each day.

And if going to work doesn’t get me in the mood, then certainly my husband does. He absolutely loves Christmas time. I think it’s mainly because it’s the time of the year that very much reflects his personality. He is so absolutely a giving person. He loves to give gifts to people and doesn’t expect anything in return. The reason he likes to do this is mostly to see what their reactions would be to each present that’s opened; especially because he puts a lot of thought into each gift. I know. I’ve been the receiver of such gifts for many many years … he’s always been an awesome shopper when it comes to me. And because he has such a wonderful outlook on the holiday season, you can’t help but be affected by his attitude.

Strange Guy (holding a Santa) on a
Suburban Detroit Street Corner

But then there’s me. Always Mrs. Pessimistic. Seriously, I don’t think I was always like this. But as I’ve alluded to in past posts, I believe that experiences in my life have taught me to be this way. Up until last holiday season, I would remember feeling very tentative and anxious as Christmas would approach. It’s because Christmas, like any other major event or holiday throughout the year would remind me exactly what I was missing in my life. Every birthday would remind me that I was yet another year older and that another year had past where I didn’t reach my goal of becoming a mom. My wedding anniversary was a reminder that I still didn’t have that family that I dreamt about on the day I got married. And let’s not even get into the whole “Hallmark Holidays,” like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.

Christmas has always been especially difficult. I believe it’s because this holiday is all about children and family. (Yes Mom, my good Catholic school girl background DOES know that “Jesus is the reason for the Season.” But this is different … ) It’s the time of year where children’s faces brighten with the thought of Santa and of presents. And the time of year when plans are made to reunite with both immediate and/or distant family members to celebrate. I have fond memories of Christmas Eve as a child, excited to be with cousins and exchanging presents with loved ones.

I think it’s only natural to want to continue to do the same thing the older you get. You want to experience making those memories with your own children. You want to see the faces of wonder and joy in their eyes as they see the Christmas tree brimming with presents and their stockings stuffed with goodies. The problem with being infertile is that you don’t have those kids. And when spending time with your family (as well as your husband’s), you can’t help but associate the holidays with some bittersweet emotions.

Last Christmas was incredibly difficult. Truth be told, I totally dreaded the whole season to the point where I didn’t even want to put up our tree. I purposely did not take time off from work during the holidays and volunteered to cover the assignments for those that did take time off just so I could keep myself busy. I threw myself into knitting presents for family members to distract me from the fact that I would be facing all of my husband’s family who would be so excited about his sister’s pregnancy. It wasn’t until December 23rd that my patient and wonderful husband convinced me to decorate our tree in order to get me in the holiday spirit (which, of course, worked like a charm. Smart hubby … ).

Our Kitty Cat, Rain. Doesn’t she
look thrilled to be wearing a Santa Hat?

So this holiday season, especially with all that happened this past year, I’m trying to change my outlook on things. Rather than be pessimistic, I’m trying to be cautiously optimistic. I’m taking what I’ve learned over the last year and trying to think positive. And although I’m still stressed (still have shopping to do) and overwhelmed (maybe those cards aren’t getting mailed this year) with what still needs to be done, I am going to remember that Christmas IS supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year.

Happy Pomegranate Week

This week is National Infertility Awareness Week. And as I suspected, I am not aware of anything that the Archdiocese of Detroit is doing to “celebrate” this week. (Although, is there really anything to celebrate about infertility?) Ironically though, if one was interested in sending their children to Catholic schools in the area, the Archdiocese has designated today as “Open House” day for all the Catholic schools. Hmmm… if I HAD any children, I would probably be taking part of this event. But alas …

So knowing that my faith wasn’t doing anything to promote this week, I went online to see if there was anything locally going on this week. What did my search yield? That there was absolutely NOTHING happening in and around the great city of Detroit. Actually, I didn’t find anything within the whole state of Michigan. And I EVEN checked the Resolve website. Pretty darn sad, if you ask me. So it’s no wonder why infertility as a chronic disease is just not something that many people are willing to discuss. (And I DO mean a chronic disease, like diabetes or cancer. In my humble opinion, infertility is a disease that requires a lifestyle adjustment.)

That’s why I decided to rename this week “Pomegranate Week” instead.

Why Pomegranate? In a movement started via blogging, the idea of having a symbol for those who have experienced or currently experiencing infertility evolved. This led to a lengthy discussion about a symbol that would identify other “infertiles” from one another as well as perhaps a catalyst to discussing infertility to those who might question what the symbol was about. Eventually what this group came up with was a simple thread, the color of pomegranate. This thread, which was to be tied along the right wrist as a bracelet, could be as simple or as ornate as the wearer wanted it to be. And thus this movement became known as “Infertility’s Common Thread.”

I could go on and on about the history of how this came about and all the symbolism to it. However, I think the original statement that was written by a fellow “infertile” says it best:

Pomegranates, a longstanding symbol of fertility, serve as a strong analogy to those suffering through infertility. Though each pomegranate skin is unique in colour and texture, the seeds inside are remarkably similar from fruit to fruit. Though our diagnosis is unique — endometriosis, low sperm count, luteal phase defect, or causes unknown — the emotions, those seeds on the inside, are the same from person to person. Infertility creates frustration, anger, depression, guilt, and loneliness. Compounding these emotions is the shame that drives people suffering from infertility to retreat into silence.

In addition, the seeds represent the multitude of ways one can build their family: natural conception, treatments, adoption, third-party reproduction, or even choosing to live child-free.

The pomegranate thread holds a two-fold purpose: to identify and create community between those experiencing infertility as well as create a starting point for a conversation. Women pregnant through A.R.T., families created through adoption, or couples trying to conceive during infertility can wear the thread, identifying themselves to others in this silent community. At the same time, the string serves as a gateway to conversations about infertility when people inquire about its purpose. These conversations are imperative if we are ever to remove the social stigma attached to infertility. Tie on the thread because you’re not alone. Wear to make aware.

NOT a Kabbalah Bracelet

So a few weeks ago, I went out and bought my pomegranate colored thread (DMC embroidery floss # 814). And yesterday, I finally made my bracelet. Today, I wear it proudly and if anyone should ask, I would gladly share a discussion with them.

For my fellow Infertility Friends, Happy Pomegranate Week!

Faith and Longing

I didn’t know this, but October is National Pregnancy and Infancy Loss Month. My Mom, a devout Catholic, told me this information last week after reading her church bulletin. Apparently, the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament (which is also the Archdiocese of Detroit’s “home parish”) was holding it’s annual mass for those couples who have lost their baby or for those couples who were trying to achieve pregnancy. She had called me thinking that my sister-in-law (SIL), Janet, and I might be interested in attending the mass. I told her that I would talk to Janet and then call her back the next day if we decide to go.

Right away, I knew my decision was going to be based on whether my SIL wanted to go. It’s not that I don’t have any spiritual faith or that I don’t believe in a higher power. It’s more because the past 10 years of infertility have caused a “rift” between God and myself.

Let’s start with a little background. As I mentioned before, my mother is a strong believer in her Catholic faith. Growing up in our household, God was always present in our daily lives and activities. The weekends revolved around when we were going to mass. We would spend summers volunteering to do “Meals on Wheels” through our Church and any Catholic holiday helping out with preparations for our Church. Every night, we would read a chapter from the Bible. And because religion was very important to my parents, I attended Catholic school up through high school. I consider myself truly lucky that my parents invested their time and their money in bringing me up with such a strong faith background. And I truly admire my Mom for all that she continues to do on a daily basis for her faith.

And there’s me. After twelve years of Catholic school and the freedom of going away to college … well, of course I detoured and explored life without organized religion. It’s not that I stopped believing in my faith or stopped practicing the basic morals of what I was taught growing up. Rather, I stopped going to mass weekly and only went when it was absolutely necessary. I also stopped my habit of saying my nightly prayers. Let’s face it, college life (and even post-college life) was just more interesting and religion was put on the back burner.

However, even back then I always knew that I would return to my faith. The one thing that Hubby (who is also Catholic) and I always said was that when it came to raising our children, we wanted to provide them with the same faith and morals that we were taught growing up. And when that time came, we both knew we would whole-heartedly return to our faith.

So imagine what has gone through my mind these past ten years as pregnancy never came. Now most people would have turned closer to their faith. And at first I did. I returned to my nightly prayers and attempted to go to mass weekly. My prayers for a family initially started out as “Please God, I ask that you provide me with the family I’ve always wanted.” As the years went on, it became “God, I know I’m a good person but I don’t understand why you’re testing my faith. Why can’t I get pregnant?” Eventually, I just became very angry at God. Why would He do this to me? Why does He allow other people to become parents when they don’t deserve to be? If God has a reason for doing things (as everyone has a way of telling me over and over AND OVER again), what “reason” did He have for making me feel so sad and miserable and GUILTY for feeling the way I do?

So when the opportunity to go to this mass came along, I wasn’t jumping at the bit. However, I knew that this would be a good thing for my SIL, especially since her loss is so recent. After a bit of discussion, we decided to meet up for breakfast on Sunday and head down to the Cathedral, sans husbands (my hubby had to work and hers is not of the same faith).

Overall, I am truly glad that we went. My SIL had the opportunity to place Liam’s name in the Book of Innocence, in which prayers will be said for these babies’ souls. A prayer was said to all those parents who lost their infant and each family was given a rose and a rosary blessed by Cardinal Maida. A prayer was also said for all the couples wishing to become pregnant or adopt a child. We were individually prayed over by the bishop with an actual relic of St. Gerard and given his medallion to continue to pray to him so that St. Gerard would “intercede” to God on our behalf. It was pretty emotional being up there and being surrounded by the beauty and strength of the Cathedral. And I do admit, I certainly did feel God’s presence that day.

However, there was one thing that truly bugged me. This mass was sponsored by the archdiocese’s Natural Family Planning program. Which makes sense, given the nature of what this Mass was about. What had bothered me was the handout they provided on all their methods for Natural Family Planning. Not that I have anything against it, but obviously I wasn’t able to get pregnant using that method. At the very bottom of their handout, it made mention about the Catholic stance on infertility procedures. The basic gist of what they said was that certain infertility procedures are appropriate; however, those procedures that involve a third person in the creation of a child is morally unacceptable.

So wow. My first response on that? Holy Mary, Mother of God … I sinned. And I sinned REALLY badly. And apparently that’s the reason why my IVF cycle failed. So guilt was my first reaction. The second one was that of anger. Why the bloody hell is it considered immoral? I tried everything under the sun to try to procreate naturally and it didn’t happen. So are they telling me then that if pregnancy didn’t happen “naturally” then it’s God’s will that I remain childless? And yet … (here it comes again) there are people out there who don’t deserve to have children?

Okay, so logically I know my first reaction was irrational. And the second one is indeed justified. But it’s that type of thing that leaves me feeling disappointed in my faith.

Despite all that, I do admit that I’ve been trying to work on returning to my faith. As of recently, I have started meeting with a Stephen Minister through a local Catholic Church who just sits and talks with me about all this anger and guilt that I feel, especially about my infertility and my fears about the adoption process. Perhaps one day, whether I continue to pursue having a family or not, I will fully, without any reservations, return to my faith.

Hmm … I wonder if the Catholic Church knows that the week of November 4-10 is National Infertility Awareness Week. And I wonder if they’ll have any events that commemorates that week?