I have the pleasure of knowing Julia in real life, one of the few I know in person, who really gets it. My little sister is married to her husband’s half-brother. Did I get that right? Someone will correct me if I didn’t. Julia found out we shared the same circumstance of decrepit reproductive organs, and we met one morning at a park. She’s amazing. Seriously, this girl can have me snort laughing with her stories. Also, she haz, like, the cutest baby EVAH. Her story is so unique because she left the U.S. to pursue IVF in another country. That, to me, is pretty bad ass. I admit, a huge part of me wishes I could follow in her footsteps. You have to read this story. It’s the kind of experience with the medical profession that we all dream of, but few actually get to have. I read her post and thought, “What a novel idea. Treating a woman going through infertility, as a woman going through infertility.” Not a chart. Not a protocol. Not a lab value. As a person. So read this entry. Then check out her brand new blog, Made in Sweden with American Parts: My IVF Journey in Another Country to follow her as she begins her FET in freaking Sweden.
Not just good at makin’ Volvos and IKEA furniture.
I sat across from her at her football field length oak desk. Papers scattered between us with lab results that outlined my waning fertility values. Words were being spoken to me, but I didn’t comprehend anything after “early menopause” and “IVF is the best option at your age.” There were price sheets in amounts that we would not be able to afford unless we held up a bank. Tears fell effortlessly. As I was processing the fact that our dream may not ever come true for us, she spoke again.
“You will not be successful in IVF unless you get a hold of your emotions.”
Excuse me? What? My emotions? Oh, you mean that tears are an inappropriate response to this overwhelming sadness, grief, hopelessness, and desperation I was feeling while being overloaded with synthetic hormones? My mistake. I knew immediately if luck would have it that we actually got our finances together to pursue such a process as IVF; this was not the place for me. I needed a different kind of medical approach. I needed to be able to trust in a process and a provider that encompassed me as an individual with all my unique needs.
In other news, I soon after received a thoughtful and delicately worded email from my younger sister, informing me that she was expecting. I knew this was not an easy letter for her to write, stifling her excitement and probably full of fear that she was crushing me. She was. I had wanted to be pregnant, but more than anything I wanted to be me again-a person that could share in other people’s joy that I love.
I read her words. She is married to a man from Sweden and they researched a clinic there that provides exceptional care for infertility. They said they would do whatever they could to help me reach the level of excitement and fulfillment of a dream as they were experiencing. They wrote to me not just about their joys but provided me with hope. HOPE. I felt that had gone down the drain with every penny we had saved for our expensive treatments thus far.
I put the letter aside. I cried. I came back to the letter. Was Sweden possible? That night at dinner, I asked my husband what he thought about this and expressed my feelings of how crazy it seemed. His response, “Why wouldn’t we go to Sweden?”
Passports started flying, bags were being packed, and I was making arrangements for our dog, time off from work, and requesting copies of my medical records. This was happening. I called the clinic and spoke to the nurse that answered, Ankie. We talked for forty-five minutes. She could help me. There was warmth, the feeling that she had all the time in the world to answer my questions and above everything else, a sense of HOPE.
The day I flew out, my parents drove me to the airport (my husband didn’t go with me. He was working out of state to make more money to cover all our medical costs and planned to come at a later time for “his part.”). I was leaving for two months, enough time for two cycles. Throughout our previous infertility treatments, I hadn’t traveled at all. I couldn’t. I was tied to our clinic, weekly lab tests or ultrasounds, followed by a week of hope, and the inevitable crash where I felt like I was swallowed up into a dark hole. Leaving my house for this amount of time was scary on so many levels, but it felt like I was beginning to float above that dark hole and move away from it as my plane soared through the clouds on its way to Sweden.
My first meeting with my medical team was very comfortable. It felt right. I was included in the process. My doctor went by his first name, Leif. As I was walking out the door, I glanced in the conference room and saw my information up on a large projector screen with the entire team discussing my plan. I was a person here, not a protocol.
The approach was stripped down. Bare bones. My calendar was not filled with frequent anxiety producing appointments. The procedures and medication costs were drastically less than I would have had to pay in the US. On one occasion, prior to going to the pharmacy to pick up my medications, a nurse at the clinic, Charlotte, came out and handed me unopened medications another patient was not able to use and had donated. It felt like a community that wanted to see you succeed. For my early morning appointments, my nurses would offer me breakfast and tea. It was nurturing.
My first cycle ended in heartbreak. My embryos had not divided appropriately to become a successful pregnancy. Leif called me early in the morning to tell me. His voice was full of sorrow. He asked that my husband and I come in to the clinic that day anyways so we could discuss this. We did. He explained what he felt occurred and how he thinks we could adjust our action plan moving forward. Immediately we had a new plan and were back on track and my husband was on his way back to the States until the next cycle started. It was a dreadful day of loss.
The second cycle was difficult. Being away from my husband at a time like this and everything else that was familiar was beginning to take its toll. I was experiencing headaches as a side effect from my medications and I was visibly withdrawing emotionally. After one of my appointments, Leif suggested I speak to a nurse. I replied that I understood my plan and I did not feel the need for any medication counseling that day. He said he would like me to meet with them anyways, just to talk. I met with Charlotte. We talked about the cycle, about my visit in Sweden, my job, family, and friends back home. Soon we were talking about anything and everything. We laughed, we cried, and we carried on clear through her lunch break. It was critical for my emotional health and I am forever indebted.
I left Sweden before I knew if it had worked. I hugged my team, took photos, gave and received small gifts and cards with expressions of gratitude. I realized that regardless of the outcome, I had given myself the opportunity to take infertility on in a way that would not have been possible for me to have done had I received treatment in the US. It gave me the luxury of time to focus 100% on myself, the good, the bad, and the ugly, free from the distractions and demands of everyday life; job stress and social obligations when that black hole is calling your name.
Angelo was born July 7, 2013. He was named after my sister, Angela, who opened my eyes and encouraged me to think outside the box. Angelo, my angel. We are going back to Sweden at the end of this month to “pick up” our frozen embryos and hopefully come back with a sibling or two for our little guy.
Images via Unsplash