The NICU life

After that first week, progress kind of slowed down for a little while. The first week was very encouraging but by week 2, we started to really feel the roller coaster of the NICU. Having one baby or child in the hospital for an extended period of time is hard, but having three, at the same time, it’s hard to explain. In the same day, one baby gets good news and another gets really hard news. I couldn’t just sit in one room watching them sleep because they were all in different rooms. You have to wash up and go through this whole process each time you change rooms so that you don’t pass infections, and I could only see them every 3 hours because of the schedule the NICU had them on. It is extremely draining to say the least. Plus, I was also still in a lot of pain from the c-section. They essentially sliced my entire abdomen open, and then I needed to be able to walk from the car to the NICU, walk from room to room, and stand at the babies’ isolettes for a few hours each day. I quickly realized that in order to heal, I could not be at the hospital all day, even though I wanted to. Derek also realized that his paternity leave would be better spent when they came home so we got into a routine of him going down early in the morning before school and me going down for about 3-5 hours each day. Again remember in that 3 hours, I only got to see each baby one time for about 5-10 minutes each since they need to spend most of the day sleeping and growing. We got so tired of people telling us how nice it must be to be getting so much sleep while they were in the hospital. First of all, what we wanted more than anything was to be up all night with our babies because that would mean they were healthy and at home with us. Secondly, I had to pump every 3 hours even all through the night, so I was still waking up, but instead of getting sweet baby snuggles, I had to sit in an empty nursery listening to a machine each night. It was terrible. Pumping gave me something to do though in the hours I spent away from our babies. I got to feel like I was doing something to help them, since I couldn’t really do much. It’s hard knowing that these nurses and doctors are taking care of your babies instead of you. But again, we had prepared ourselves for this happening the whole pregnancy, its just hard to really know what it looks like until you are there.

So, Derek went back to school, and my mom thankfully stayed in Atlanta to drive me to and from the hospital each day to see the babies and get our report. Lucy quickly became the rock star and was breathing like a champ and got her pic line out in the 2nd week. A pic line is a permanent IV because the babies needed so much extra fluid and the babies try to pull out the temporary ones. The pic line goes in their foot so they can’t reach their little hands down there. Fun fact: preemies often have a foot phobia later in life because they have so many IV’s and needle pricks and tests done on their feet. To prevent this phobia, we had to give them little foot massages each day!

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Oliver had a lot of trouble breathing in week 2 and had many scares where he would just stop breathing. Their lungs just weren’t developed, and it took time for them to figure out how to breathe. Their little bodies would just forget that it was supposed to be breathing. It was a regular occurrence to either be holding one of the boys or to watch them in their isolette or to get a phone call at home that one of the babies had stopped breathing (usually one of the boys). Derek and I both had one of them turn blue in our hands and listened to all of the alarms and stats plummet. We quickly had to learn to not panic but to do special holds and pats to try and get them to remember to breathe again. Each time that alarm started beeping telling us that the breathing was too low, my heart would drop.

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The two things I remember most about the NICU was that I had to ask to hold and or touch my babies each time, and the alarms. The alarms never stop. I would hear them in my sleep. They make my blood pressure rise just thinking about them. I seriously just got anxious typing this. They were constantly going off. Each baby had a wire measuring temperature, a wire measuring blood pressure, a wire measuring breathes per minute, a wire measuring heartrate, and a wire measuring their oxygen level. There was a range that each of these had to stay in and anytime a baby dropped below or went above this range, the monitor would beep. It was a loud constant beep. I learned after a couple weeks that some of the alarms were not a big deal, but others were very serious, so as soon as one goes off, you rush to spot which baby it is and which alarm and if it is a serious one. So for a while, I was constantly panicking.

We got to bring our own clothes and blankets for the babies which made us feel a little more a part of taking care of them. It may sound weird, but they let us do their laundry, and I loved getting to bring it home with me each day. We even let Turbo (our dog) sniff the clothes each time we brought it home so that she could get used to their scent. It made us all feel like a part of them was at home with us.

Now almost a year later, it’s easy to forget the time that we spent in the NICU. It feels like so long ago. One of my themes for the year is going to be remembering and celebrating all that the Lord has carried us through. I’ll write more later about my theme verse, but for now as we are heading into SLO’s birthday week, I am celebrating all that we have overcome this year. We not only survived, but we really have enjoyed and been grateful for each day with these 3. The challenges are changing and are harder in some ways, but I have been reminded this week that God has more than proven that He will be with us in whatever may come next.

Derek’s thoughts on PGD

This is Derek! Welcome to the blog post with lots of abbreviations.  IVF is full of ethical implications; one of which is the practice of genetic screening or Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD). During the IVF process, doctors fertilize eggs in a petri dish and then implant one or two into the woman after waiting 4-6 days. However during the PGD process, the development of the embryos is halted around day 4 or 5 when they become blastocysts. Doctors then remove one of the cells off of the newly formed blastocysts, and this removed cell is then tested genetically for diseases such as Down Syndrome, Trisomy-18, Tay-Sachs Disease, Cystic Fibrosis, Osteogenesis Imperfecta etc… If the embryo tests positive for one of these diseases, then that embryo is discarded and only healthy embryos are implanted into the woman.

PGD offers hope for communities like the Ashkenazi Jewish communities where Tay Sachs is drastically more common compared to the rest of the United States population. This terrible disease causes the death of young children and is recessive as well which means many parents risk having children with the disease if they come in contact with another carrier. This disease is so terrible that the Ashkenazi community has actually set up a registry where romantic couples can check and see if both of the people are carriers before beginning to date. PGD however offers hope for carriers of these diseases because it allows for the removal of embryos which would have this disease.

I find the whole topic of PGD particularly fascinating, not only for the hope it gives some couples, but also for the ethical implications of using this technology. Megan and I became more aware of PGD not only through our journey of IVF but through reading a book titled No Easy Choice by Ellen Dollar. The book chronicles Dollar’s journey with the disease, Osteogenesis Imperfecta (OI) or more commonly known as brittle bone disease. The most extreme cases of children with OI cannot even survive childbirth, however for many people with OI they are able to live relatively normal lives albeit with extreme pain and scores of fractures. For children with OI, learning to walk is a terrifying ordeal as every fall or stumble possibly results in spiral fractures of the femur or broken hips. Painter herself suffers from OI and writes that by the age of 14, she had around 60 broken bones. Thankfully, after puberty these fracture rates plummet due to different biological factors, but the scars and pain remain.

Dollar discusses her family’s journey as they debated whether or not to use PGD on their future children. The dangerous part of OI is that it is a dominant genetic mutation which means that Ellen and her husband have a 50% chance of having a child with OI. While Megan and I are not carriers for diseases such as OI, PGD is a question that Megan and I had to wrestle with for our embryos in the IVF process. Is it ethical to use PGD upon our embryos to pick the healthiest of them?

Dollar and her husband had no fertility issues, and PGD wasn’t quite to the level it needed to be when they began their family the old fashioned way. They eventually discovered that their first daughter Leah had OI.  What followed is a series of tragic falls and hospital visits.  Ellen records that Leah didn’t learn to walk until she was two because of complications with OI.  When she did learn to walk, she broke her first bone at the age of two and a half.  She then broke three bones in three months.  After going another nine months, she fell and broke both her tibia and her fibula and her arm in one fall.  Due to OI, these are not simple fractures but compound fractures with bones sticking stomach curling angles.  Leah broke six bones between the age of two and four.

By the time Ellen and her husband decided to have a second child, PGD was further along and an option for Ellen.  The rest of the book is Ellen dealing and wrestling with whether or not they should use PGD to select their second child.  However because of Leah, she asks “By using PGD to ensure OI-free children, were we diminishings the inherit value of people like me , Leah, and others living with disabilities?”  Furthermore, she also wrestled with her moral obligation to her future children to alleviate their suffering.  What role does PGD have in our future world?

I think there are two questions at hand in this conversation: Is it the moral obligation of parents to relieve suffering of their children by any means necessary? And what role do those with disabilities have in society? When we partake in PGD and other means to remove the disabled from society, what are we saying about those with disabilities for example? Is it better for people with disabilities to simply not exist? Is there any benefit they bring to the world. Is it better to exist with OI than to never exist at all? The potential of PGD is forcing families to ask this question. When we engage in practices which remove disabilities from the world, we are subtly saying something about what it means to be disabled. Diagnostic techniques such as PGD and Amniocentesis make a statement about life with disability. Megan and I tested ourselves for these diseases and neither of us are carriers, so we forwent PGD in our embryos. As I write it, it feels like a cop out. I feel inadequate to tell those who have to make these decisions what they should or should not do. However, I know from my experiences with those who are disabled in some way that a disabled life is a beautiful life and one worth existing. Disability challenges our “abled” concepts of independence. It challenges Christianity’s hyper-intellectualization of faith by questioning what it means to have faith. There is much that our world gains from engaging those with disability. People with disability help those of us who are abled to realize that the value of life is far beyond what we produce.  A world without Down’s in not a utopia but a dystopia. By removing all disability, we remove the beauty of diversity. I write that all to say also that there is a place for relieving the potential pain of potential people, however before making these decisions, we must pause and contemplate what we are saying about life.

The second question is more difficult. Robert Edwards writes, “Soon it will be a sin of parents to have a child that carries the heavy burden of genetic disease.  We are entering a world where we have to consider the quality of our children” As parents, are we morally obligated to provide the best life and to remove the most suffering from these potential lives? I believe the answer is no. I have a moral obligation to not be negligent, however we are seeing an onslaught of hyper parenting. Parents feel the need to ensure that their children have the “best” whatever the best will be. The best school, the best tutor, the best whatever, and now there is the potential for children to have the “best” genetic makeup. I believe this desire for “best” is what is creating the rise in anxiety disorders among our children. When you are given the best, you are expected to be the best, and so you feel this ever increasing anxiousness to arrive. As parents we fail to aide our children when we bulldoze a path forward for them that eliminates all suffering. Especially as a Christian, I see potential in the redemptive nature of suffering both in my life and in the lives of my children.

PGD is a burgeoning technology which is only growing in its reach for future couples. It is a technology with both potential for great good but also for potential to shape how we view those who are disabled. In that context, it’s an issue that we should be thinking about and discussing

A Triplet Pregnancy

The next few weeks after finding out that we were pregnant with triplets were crazy. I had to tell my administration at the school where my husband and I have both taught for the last several years that I was pregnant with triplets. They were amazing in their response. They immediately helped me figure out my teaching schedule so that I had fewer responsibilities, less stress, less standing, and made it possible for me to be able to teach as long as possible and then step out and allow other teachers to take my spot. This allowed me the freedom to leave whenever I needed to, but relieved me of the stress involved in sub plans. Then, I had to find an MFM (Maternal Fetal Medicine) or perinatologist and a new OBGYN. I wanted to find both near the best NICU since most triplets are born very early and usually need some time in the hospital after they are born to finish growing. Both Derek and I knew there is a lot that can go wrong with triplets, and with so much outside of our control we wanted to make sure we controlled everything that we could. Thankfully, Atlanta has one of the best NICU hospitals around – Northside. After finding my new doctors, I had to drive down there regularly for ultrasounds. Most “normal” pregnancies have about 2 ultrasounds. We had more than I can count. I just tried to count, and it was too confusing. haha It’s probably around 20 times. I went to my OB about every 6 weeks and had to have an ultrasound each time there but just to check heartbeats. It’s hard to check a heartbeat without an ultrasound when there are 3 babies. If you just listen with a stethoscope it would sound like a very unorganized drum line. They had to make sure that they were correctly hearing all 3. Besides checking for heart rate and just asking me questions, the OB appointments were pretty easy. I went to the MFM about once a month and even more often the further along I got. Each of those appointments were pretty intense. We adored our doctor. She was fantastic. She explained everything and was calm and genuinely enjoyed when we came in. Plus, she is brilliant and really good at her job. At each of these appointments they would go over the risks in the near future. The possibility of losing one or all 3 of these babies was very real. In the MFM appointments, I had trouble breathing because of the high risk involved. Even more common than losing the babies is the possibility of one or all of the being born with extreme complications. So, while the ultrasound tech measured the babies, I literally held my breath, praying that everything was ok. They would measure each baby (arms, legs, head, stomach, etc), they would check the fluid in each sac, and measure my cervix. This usually took about 2-3 hours. They would check everything on baby A (Oliver), then everything on baby B (Shepherd), and then baby C (Lucy). Finally after they finished with Lucy, I could breathe. Thankfully Derek came to almost every one of them with me and held my hand the whole time (even though holding my hand put him at an awkward angle to see the screen). The biggest fear at the beginning was that the boys wouldn’t share nutrients. Twin to Twin transfusion is a really scary thing among babies that share a placenta like our boys. If one takes too much, than it leaves the other baby too small and they would have to go in and do a procedure to try and cut some of the chord and a whole lot of other scary things that I don’t even understand. They had to check my cervix and the fluid in the sac because early labor is extremely common when pregnant with multiples. The longest that I was allowed to go was a little over 35 weeks (40 weeks is “normal” for singletons). The risk after 35 weeks is the placenta detaching because everything gets too heavy. And let’s be real, there is no way that I am giving birth to three 7-8 pound babies. Each week was a milestone though. Making it to 24 weeks was the first big milestone. At 24 weeks the babies are considered viable with about a 50/50 chance of survival. Every week past that was less time that we would have to spend in the NICU. I am on a triplet Facebook page with hundreds of other triplet moms that gave birth this year. I am learning more and more that our babies are an exception. More often than not, triplets are born early, born with major physical complications, have developmental delays, spend many months in the NICU, and more. I ended up making it to 32 weeks and 5 days. Towards the end it was really hard to walk. I was nauseous the entire pregnancy, but thankfully there is a medicine now that is very safe with pregnant women and it was a GAME changer! Diclegis for the win. haha I took it every day until I gave birth. I also took about 10 vitamins and prenatal supplements. I needed a lot of extra ones because, well I had a couple extra babies. I also took a low dose aspirin everyday to help reduce my chance of pre-term labor. I even had to have my progesterone shot in my hip until I was 10 weeks pregnant. Most days I was taking around 10-15 pills. I tried to stay off of my feet as much as possible. I was thankfully able to teach the entire fall semester (until about 28 weeks), but taught everyday from a chair. By the end I was so big and unable to bend over. If I dropped my marker or a pen, I had to get a student to come up and get it for me. It was pretty entertaining. I couldn’t exercise because of the obvious difficulty moving, but more importantly because I couldn’t afford to use any of my calories. One of the few things I could do to keep the babies healthy and to prevent pre-term labor was to gain a whole lot of weight and drink a whole lot of water. This is difficult when most things made me nauseous. Derek would make me drink these terrible protein shakes everyday. He would mix ice cream, peanut butter, instant breakfast, protein powder (the organic nasty kind) and milk. It sounds tasty and may have been if I didn’t want to puke. This was my morning snack by the way. He made me eat breakfast, my protein shake, peanut butter crackers (with like 3 Tablespoons of peanut butter on each one), lunch, dinner, ice cream for dessert. It would be any other person’s dream, but I had morning sickness times 3 the entire pregnancy. Eating that many calories when all I wanted to do was throw up was actually incredibly difficult. Those protein shakes were the worst and the best though. They really did help me gain weight. I gained a total of 60 pounds throughout the pregnancy. And I lost 40 pounds the moment the babies were born!! I had always looked forward to the actual pregnancy part, but having 3 was painful and stressful and scary. However, I would do it all over again in a heartbeat for these 3 beautiful babies. Sometimes Derek and I look at them and can’t believe that I carried them at the same time and that they are ours.

Another fun fact about the pregnancy is that I knew which baby was which the whole time. Baby A was always Oliver and he was head down on the left as low as possible. By the end, he had wedged his head into my pelvis and made me have to pee about every hour. Baby B was Shepherd (except his name was Samuel for a while in my belly) and he was on the left side like Oliver, but he was always a little higher. He was my kicker. He was always an ounce or 2 smaller (not much though! Thankfully they shared nutrients really well!), but he was the one that by far kicked me the most. He also was the only one that got hiccups. Lucy, Baby C, had the whole right side to herself. Even so, she would try to move as far away from the boys as possible. She would try to put her head under my rib cage. It was tight in there. I loved that Derek and I could place our hands on my belly at night and pray for each one specifically though. It was a hard and wonderful 32 weeks and 5 days.

It’s TRIPLETS

Transfer day came and again Derek got to be in the room as the doctor placed both blastocysts inside my uterus. Then the 10 day wait came. We waited to see if one or both of them would attach. (sidenote: while we waited, we went to the lake and Derek was tubing and broke his jaw…It is never a dull moment around our house). Day 10 came, and I went in for blood work that morning. We went home and tried to stay as distracted as possible while we waited for the doctor to call and let us know if my numbers were high enough for the possibility of a pregnancy. I will never forget that moment. We had just pulled our car into the carport and Derek was walking to get the mail. I yelled for him and we sat on the driveway and listened to the doctor tell us that my numbers were really high. He mentioned that twins were even a possibility since the numbers were so high. We sat on the driveway and cried and prayed and cautiously guarded our hearts for the possibility that this news was too good to be true. After experiencing an ectopic, miscarriage was very much on our minds. We waited 2 weeks before we got to have an ultrasound. At that point I was 6 weeks pregnant. We found out at this ultrasound that is was in fact twins. We were overjoyed. We went back one week later for one more ultrasound with the fertility doctor and this time he paused in the ultrasound and acted like something was wrong. Our hearts sank thinking that we had lost one or both of them. Thankfully the pause was because we had actually gained a baby instead of losing one!! haha We never even considered the possibility of triplets. It was less than a 1% chance. I mean we only put in 2 blastocysts so the idea of getting out 3 babies hadn’t crossed my mind. I have since learned that identical twins are not genetic. Identical twins are created when one embryo or blastocyst splits into 2. Our twins were mono/di twins. This means that they shared a placenta but had separate sacs in the uterus. In order for this to happen, the blastocyst must have split before day 7. We inserted them on day 6, so it happened pretty much instantly. When they split after day 7, they become mo/mo twins and share a sac, or they become siamese twins. Both of these options are much more dangerous. It is amazing that ours split at just the right time. So we had one set of identical twins and a third fraternal baby. I was immediately terrified. I was scared for the babies because I knew that carrying 3 babies must be incredibly dangerous. I was scared for me and my body and scared for how Derek and I would physically take care of them. I was scared of skipping straight to zone defense from the beginning with 2 parents and 3 babies. How would we hold them or feed them or comfort them with only 2 of us?!? My mind was spinning. Derek promises he almost passed out, but all I remember was him grabbing my hand and gently whispering, this is great! We can do this! These are our babies. We can do this together. He was and remains to this day such a rock in our whirlwind days. I love the way he balances me. The doctor immediately jumped into explaining that I would most likely be on bed rest for several weeks or months. He explained the dangers but also encouraged us that this was very doable. Honestly though, I don’t really remember much of what he said. I was in a complete haze. If you have ever watched Parks and Rec, we are Leslie Knope and Ben Wyatt. *Spoiler Alert* Go back and watch the scene where they find out that they are having triplets. That is very similar to how it went down. We were terrified and excited and confused and so many more emotions all at one time. And just so you know, zone defense is very doable and so much fun. Now I can’t begin to imagine life without one or all of my 3 very different babies.

While this was and will always remain a beautiful moment in our story, it still took me 15 weeks before I could actually say the words “I am pregnant” or “I’m going to be a mom” out loud. I would get seriously mad at Derek when he would make me say it. I’m tearing up as I type this because of how scary and emotional those first few weeks were for me. I had been in so many doctor’s offices when bad news was presented. I had believed that “I’m pregnant” moment to be real so many times only to be disappointed. Why would this time be any different? Surely the shoe was going to drop at any moment, and I would wake up to discover that again something was wrong and this was not going to happen. I felt like saying it out loud would jinx it. I thought it was too good to be true. I was so scared and so numb at the same time. It’s hard to explain what shape my head was in after 3 years of hearing “No” from God over and over. Those heartaches didn’t just disappear. The pain didn’t magically turn into rainbows. It was hard. It still is hard sometimes. In the few weeks after we found out, I actually spoke at our school retreat. The topic was about seeing God in the midst of pain. I looked at almost every story in the Bible that summer in order to gain insight into why God says no and what happens later after He says no. As I examined scripture for my talk, I came up with 3 main reasons that God says no. The least common reason was for punishment. It was actually very rare. The second reason God said no was so that He could say yes to something else, or He just waited for a while to say yes. The third and most common reason that God said no was just because this world is broken and bad things happen (message me if you want more info on scripture references). My talk centered around how I believe that God does not make the pain and suffering happen in this world, but that He is so good at taking the ugly and broken and turning it into something beautiful ( I feel like that is a recurring theme in this blog). In fact, He is so good at this that it often looks as though He planned it all along. I could have ended my talk by saying, “I’m pregnant!” But I didn’t. I didn’t want the people in the audience that are still hearing “No” to think that something is wrong with them. We didn’t get pregnant because we prayed hard enough. We didn’t get pregnant because we pleased God or did something to deserve it. We didn’t get pregnant because we waited long enough. I don’t think that God planned on my fallopian tubes being messed up. But I do know that even in the darkest days, even when all feels lost and you feel incredibly broken, God is there, and if you allow Him to, He will use your brokenness to create something beautiful. So many of our friends and people we know, still don’t have their babies. Many people try IVF 1, 2, 3, 4, …10 times and it never works. Some people are still waiting. I hurt with you. I don’t understand why God says No still, but I do believe that even when He does, He is still good. A good Father does not clear a path of perfection for their child.  A good parent lets their child fall and hurt and while the good parent comforts them in the pain, they don’t take it away because life has good and bad. I could go on and on about my thoughts on this issue. I could go into my thoughts on Jeremiah 29:11. I could go off on why I think suffering exists. I could go off on story after story of God turning ashes into something beautiful, but instead just know that I am not blessed because I got pregnant. I am not whole because I got pregnant. God is not good because I got pregnant. God is good, I am blessed, and I am whole because I serve a God that transcends the pain and loves the broken, the lonely, and “the other.” God was good before I got pregnant. My story didn’t begin or end with our pregnancy. It is just part of our story, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Waiting Through IVF Again

We decided to wait a couple months before our second round of IVF. We went on a trip to China with our school and loved getting to pour out on our students and also on the kids at the orphanage that we went to work at. It hurt so much to leave the orphanage knowing that there were so many children there that needed parents and knowing that Derek and I wanted a child so badly. Again, I hated that I wasn’t old enough. I was 29 (You have to be 30 in China to adopt). So close, but not old enough. It really put such an ache in our hearts for adoption though. I really hope that one day we can be a part of a child finding a forever family. When we got back from China, we jumped right into round 2 of IVF. The fertility doctors suggested that we again only put one of our remaining 2 blastocysts in. IVF is a hard and long process. It’s expensive and is not usually covered by insurance. It’s painful physically and draining emotionally. Derek and I couldn’t be out past 8pm during the whole process because we had to be home for me to get my shot, or even more awkwardly…we carried the needle to strange places to give the shot while out. It never got easier or less painful to get my shot. I didn’t cry, but it wasn’t fun. However, in a weird way, it brought Derek and I closer together. There is nothing like having your husband stab you with a needle every night to create bonding time (ok no matter how I type that it sounds twisted…Im just going to leave it). Derek and I really did become such a team through IVF. We had our roles and we sat together every night allowing ourselves to keep dreaming about our family and encouraging each other on nights when it was tough. But we knew that no matter how long the day was, we would have this time together at night. Derek would tell me something he loved about me or was proud of me for each night he had to give me a shot. Again, I know this sounds weird, but I look back on those months with a happy feeling even though the shots freakin hurt. The second round was a little different than the first. We had our 2 frozen blastocysts so we didn’t have to do the retrieval part. I did have to take estrogen pills again. I had a lot more blood work (seriously I looked like a drug addict). And we started the big progesterone shots again. We talked at length about those 2 remaining blastocysts. We talked about only putting 1 in versus putting in both. The chances of getting twins was higher but the chances of it failing again with both was much lower. We were emotionally, physically, and financially pretty done at that point. We both decided that this was it for us. This was our last chance. If this round of IVF didn’t work, then we would focus on adoption only. We could have just put in one of the blastocysts and donated the other one for adoption to couples that want to carry a child but have problems with their eggs and/or sperm. We could have frozen one of them and come back to it later in the future. We could have even donated the other one to science. Contrary to some beliefs, fertility clinics never just dispose of blastocysts unless the couple directly asks them to. And we had to sign a mountain of paperwork designating exactly what we wanted to happen in case x,y, or z happened (Derek explained this in more detail in his ethical questions post). After a lot of discussion, we both felt very confident about putting in our 2 remaining blastocysts at the same time. Again, both of us had been through the ringer at this point and were completely on board with the possibility of twins. The emotional roller coster of infertility and of IVF is really really exhausting. And even though it is much cheaper to just transfer and not have to do the retrieval for the 2nd round of IVF, its still not cheap by any means. And finally, my body was physically tired of shots and drugs and tests.  We really wanted a biological child and this definitely increased our chances of having just that. So, in went 2 blastocysts. We called them our blastosaurs (Charmander and Squirtel to be exact – Pokemon Go was a thing at the time). And then we waited.

We waited…again. Life is made up of many seasons, but a lot of them contain waiting and longing. I waited to be a teenager. I waited to go to college. I longed to start dating. I longed to find a husband. I waited as I searched for the right job. I waited to not be so busy. I longed to have kids. In between all of the waiting and tugging of the heart, there are brief periods of time when we think we have everything that our hearts could ever want. But then, we find something else to wait for. We find something else that tugs on our heart and draws us into longing for the next thing. It’s so hard to just sit in the waiting and be still. It’s so hard to let my mind rest in contentedness and invest in the season that I am planted. This is especially true when the thing you long for is a good and Godly thing. Waiting hurts. Having God say no hurts. Trusting and releasing control is way easier said than done. But there is something beautiful about the forming of the heart that takes place in a season of waiting. If we allow the darkness and the emptiness to be used by God to transform us into a better us, it brings purpose to the pain.

I read a book the summer of our 2nd round of IVF called Learning to Walk in the Darkness. In it the author explains that darkness, brokenness, and emptiness provide a new perspective on life in a way that normalcy never will. I am more aware of my pain and my joy while in the midst of brokenness. I am more aware of words and thoughts, more aware of my strengths and weaknesses in a season of pain. In fact, it frees me from my attachments to benefits promised for by believing in God.  It forces me to really stop believing in a health and wealth Gospel, a Gospel where believing in God always brings physical and worldly blessings. I have stopped believing in God solely for the purpose of Him fixing my problems. It allowed me to understand God more deeply. It freed me from my devotion to spiritual practices and instead moved that devotion to a more real savior. It helped me stop speaking in Christianese (Jesus language that sounds really good but deep down doesn’t really mean anything) and learned to speak truth and be real and angry and honest. It has freed me from thinking that I already believed all of the right things about God. I will never fully understand Him, and I like it that way. It’s much more exciting to follow a God that is wiser and more powerful and mysterious then me. It freed me from trying to fix my doubt because it turns out that doubting is a really good thing if you use it to learn more about God and ask good questions and really figure out what you believe about God and who He really is. It freed me, but I am still daily in need of this freedom.

The IVF process (round 1)

Once we decided to try IVF, everything started happening fairly quickly. We went to a special pharmacy and picked up tons of needles, syringes, medicine, alcohol swabs, gauze, and even a sharp’s box. It’s very intimidating and kind of crazy that they just hand all of this medicine and all of these needles over to people that have no medical training. I feel like you have to be fairly intelligent to do IVF because you have to mix each shot to the correct mL and measure it out with saline and then you actually have to give/get all of these hundreds of shots and put them in the correct spot. Thankfully, my husband is brilliant and an amazing partner. He took complete charge of the meds. He mixed and organized and gave me every shot that I had to have. First though, I had to take birth control pills to regulate my cycle, and I had to start having blood work taken regularly to check on my levels of all kinds of things. I had to plan my blood work appointments around my classes and even had to miss some school. The office was 30 minutes away, and I had to drive down there every time too, which ended up being a lot of driving. By the end, my arms where so bruised it looked like I had been shooting up drugs from all the times I had blood drawn. Then, I had to have some tests run to check and make sure my uterus looked ok. The HSC and trial transfer were actually pretty painful. I drove myself to this procedure and did not know that it would be so difficult. They found a polyp, and I had to have a small surgery to remove it a few days later. It didn’t affect my cycle thankfully, but was one more thing we had to deal with.  I think I only missed one day of teaching through all of this too, so I was still teaching and pretending like everything was normal at school. When it finally came time to start the shots, both Derek and I were so nervous. Derek always talks about how weird of a feeling it is to stab your wife with an inch long needle in the stomach. I’m glad that didn’t come naturally for him. haha Anyway, I started out with shots of Gonal F and menapur in the belly. Then we added centrocide and monostat the day before the trigger shot. This whole first batch of shots was so that my body would start and stop ovulating in order to produce multiple eggs at one time. On the night of the trigger shot, you have to give it at midnight and it is very precise. Derek accidentally drew out the wrong amount of the trigger shot and some shot out the needle so it was a few mL short. We were freaking out! Derek was so upset, he had to walk outside for a few minutes to calm down. Then, it ended up being a little bit late and the trigger shot is supposed to be right at midnight. It was such a stressful night. Again, it’s crazy that non medical people do this every day. Thankfully, it ended up not being a big deal at all that the trigger was a little late. The trigger shot made my body ready to actually take out the eggs. Two days after the trigger shot, I had a minor surgery to remove the eggs. I had 18 eggs taken out of my ovaries in the retrieval. This process made my ovaries so sore, but the surgery itself didn’t hurt. Next, I took a pill to get my body ready for pregnancy while we waited a couple weeks. We were so excited to find out that 11 out of my 18 eggs were fertilized. I then started taking estrogen (pill form) and progesterone (big shot) to further prepare my body for pregnancy. When you get pregnant your body naturally makes progesterone, but since we bypassed a couple steps (or did them in a different way) I had to have progesterone shots until my body realized it was pregnant. The progesterone shots were not small. haha They had to go in my hip (kind of in my butt). They hurt!!! They had to go in such a specific part of my hip that we drew big circles on my hip with a sharpie marker so that we knew exactly where it needed to go. I wore a bathing suit once in this time period, and it was really funny that I had these big sharpie circles showing. Then, just 5 days after the retrieval, they picked one of the 11 fertilized eggs to transfer into my uterus. At that point, the fertilized egg is called a blastocyst. Derek got to go back into the operating room with me and watched on the screen as they placed the blastocyst in my uterus. It did not hurt at all and was a really special moment. Out of the 10 blastocysts left, only 2 survived to be frozen for later. The other ones just stopped growing and would never be able to grow into a baby. I was really thankful that 2 had made it. Sometimes you only end up with 1 viable embryo even after pulling out 18 eggs. I continued with the progesterone shots and waited to see if the blastocyst would attach to my uterine lining. You have to wait 10 days and it was the longest 10 days ever. Sadly, we found out that our first round failed. I know that the blastocyst was not yet an embryo and that it is even different than a miscarriage. But it was so incredibly painful and felt like we had lost another child. We had lost the opportunity for that little one and it was very emotional. I still remember that I was sitting on the steps at our house when the doctor called. Derek was at work, and I immediately called him and just sat on the steps crying till he came home.

Even now as I sit here holding one baby with 2 more asleep in their cribs, it still makes my heart ache thinking about how hard that moment and this whole process has been. I’m just now able to process that I fully believe that God disappointed me. I still feel angry at God and don’t understand how His timing works. I don’t think that He caused the bad things, but He let them happen. Sometimes He intervenes and sometimes He doesn’t. Sometimes He heals, and sometimes the person you are praying for still dies. Sometimes the baby you pray for never comes. Sometimes bad things still happen after lots and lots of prayer over them. It makes me question prayer and how God listens and answers. It makes me not want to trust God because I trusted Him and He let me down. ya ya I know, I have my babies and they are seriously a miracle and beautiful, BUT I didn’t do anything to deserve them. I just cant believe that my prayers or faithfulness are the reason that they are so healthy and happy and wonderful. I want to trust God again and then as soon as I make peace with Him and peace with not understanding WHY, something else tragic in my life or in the world happens again, and I’m thrown all over again.

I need a new framework because the one that I keep trying to fit God into just doesn’t fit. I need to redefine prayer. I need to redefine answering prayer. I need to redefine success. I need to redefine what it looks like for God to be with me and what it looks like for him to fulfill His promises. Maybe, just maybe, He never really did let me down. Maybe, just maybe, He never left. Maybe prayer isn’t about me at all. Maybe Jesus isn’t as concerned about me as much as He is concerned about the world and His Kingdom coming more fully here. Maybe Jesus is more concerned about the Kingdom coming on Earth and in my life than about the things I want. And maybe I need to quit being selfish and start looking up and around. That may seem harsh, and I know that God does care about the details of our life and sometimes He answers with a big fat YES that makes everyone jump for joy, but sometimes He says No. The NO doesn’t mean that I have less faith or that I did something wrong. It doesn’t mean that God let me down or isn’t good. Life is full of messy, painful things. I don’t follow God because He makes my life full of good things. I don’t trust Him because I think He will make my life successful by the world’s standards. I don’t love God because I think He will take away my pain. I am a believer in Jesus Christ because in the most painful times, He promises that I will have the strength and the peace to carry on. I don’t want to be afraid of darkness and brokenness. Yes, it is going to hurt. Yes, it may last a long time. Yes, I will probably doubt and be angry and be sad and ask questions. But that’s ok!! If Jesus can be angry through the pain and beg God to take it away, then so can I, and maybe He will. But the real struggle comes from believing that even if He doesn’t, He is still good. He is still a God to trust and love even in the moments when I wish He had said Yes. His goodness is shown in the truth that love always wins and that Sunday (the Resurrection) is always coming. The pain is never the ending place. This is so much easier said than done. But If I keep speaking it over myself, then it eventually becomes truth.

Ethical questions about IVF

This is Derek. I’m trying to write some too for the blog as we talk about our story. For this post, I’m going to discuss some of the ethical issues within IVF and infertility. I’ve put this into a question/answer format to answer questions that either people have asked us, we’ve asked ourselves, or our friends who have gone through IVF were asked by other people. I hope this makes it a little easier to see various objections to the process ethically, and kind of walks you through how we arrived at the decision we did.

IVF is incredibly expensive, so why don’t you just spend the money on adoption? Why don’t you just adopt?

I put this first because, honestly, we wrestled over this question more than any other. It hits close to home because Megan and I are passionate about adoption. We actively support and work with a special needs orphanage in China, and we think adoption is something Christians in the world should be more active in. IVF is also incredibly expensive and costs about the same amount as a new car. Is it justifiable for us to spend so much money on something unnecessary when there are plenty of other kids in the world that need parents? Should we spend money on something medically unnecessary when that money could be spent on adoption? First off, it’s absurd to think that only infertile couples should be asked this question. We rarely think about adoption before buying a car, or buying a new house, or getting the kitchen remodeled. Infertile couples do not solely carry the burden of adoption or the weight of financial decisions in lieu of adoption. “Why don’t you just adopt?” is a question that can be asked before any major purchase. Many object to the cost of IVF while failing to look at their own finances. It’s an easy way to pass the buck onto someone who we don’t understand. This is something we often do to the “other.” Any question that begins with “Why don’t you…” is often a failure to empathize or understand a person’s background. Secondly, I can’t explain how much infertility hurts, and how strong the desire for biological children is. We really wanted to explore all of our options, and after three years of trying, we needed to take this path to its end whether that was biological children or not. While we were working with the fertility clinic, we also were actively pursuing adoption through various programs in the Atlanta area. However, we decided we really wanted to explore our options for biological children until we ran out of them. We decided we would give one round of IVF, and then stop. But at least then we could have closure, and wouldn’t have to play the what if game.

Doesn’t IVF create a lot of embryos which in turn causes the death of many unborn babies?

I get this concern, however it’s primarily based out of a misunderstanding of biology. In “normal” pregnancies, women regularly miscarry around 20% of the time. On top of that, it is estimated that around 30 to 50% of the time eggs which are fertilized naturally miscarry before even implanting in the woman’s uterus. This is why even fertile couples don’t get pregnant the first time a woman ovulates and has sex. This is why no doctor will consider you infertile until a year of actively trying (which is incredibly). Sometimes (obviously not all the time) when a woman’s period is late it’s because an egg was fertilized but didn’t make it past the first couple of days. There’s a natural dying off of fertilized eggs because of natural factors at play. We see a lot of the same tendencies and percentages at play in fertilizing eggs during IVF. Also, I find it interesting that the same people that would like to decry IVF creating life through embryos dying do not hold funerals for miscarriages. We obviously see a difference between a baby and an embryo in the way we as a society treat losing each. Miscarriage is incredibly painful, losing a child more so. While all life is sacred (embryonic or not) and should be treated with incredible dignity and respect, there is also a difference in our treatment of these two and should be.

Is IVF playing God?

The rationale goes that we should accept what God gives us and that IVF is taking life into our own hands and trying to replace God. I would push back against this. We regularly do not accept the hand given to us. I reject the fact that I am near blind without corrective lenses, so I wear glasses. Oliver was sick last week, and we gave him antibiotics. We play God every time we treat a disease or have life saving surgery. We give prosthetics to people who were born without the legs or arms. Aren’t we playing God every time we heal a disease or correct a birth deformity? IVF is simply curing the disease of infertility. IVF brings life to this world and undoes the damage of inferility in people’s live. It’s a beautiful thing and participating in the work of God restoring creation.

What about the left over embryos?

Before you sign up for IVF there is a enormous packet to fill out with what to do with the embryos. You can destroy them, give them to research, or anonymously donate them to another couple. We chose to adopt them out to another couple if we didn’t use all of ours. I was actually really excited about the option of donating unwanted embryos to couples who were struggling with infertility. Part of me was excited to help other couples in need, but the other part of me was excited to imagine every little ginger I see from now on as possibly my kid. Sounds weirder as I type it than it is in my head. However, many object to IVF but don’t realize adoption is an option. There is no need to discard any viable embryos created during the IVF process.

Is implanting so many embryos dangerous and does it cause multiple pregnancies? Will the doctors need to abort one for the others to survive?

You can always implant one embryo and in fact our fertility doctor demanded it for our first attempt. For the second attempt our doctor did not want us to do two embryos, but he understood and eventually after signing a waiver allowed us to implant both of them. Implanting 3 – 4 embryos at a time is something that is highly discouraged today, and was something more common when the percentage of success was much lower. The rates are so much better now that doctors want most couples to do one and at max two. At no point did any fertility doctor suggest we should abort one. Our high risk OB did offer that as a possibility, but we declined and she seemed pleased about that. She wasn’t pushy, and it was definitely not expected or encouraged just simply offered as a medical option, and after that day it was never mentioned again.

There are numerous other issues surrounding infertility such as suffering and the why behind painful issues like it. There’s even more advanced issues such as Pre-implantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD). Hopefully I can write on here about some of those in the future. I think Christians need to start having conversations about reproductive technologies and bioethics.  The world is changing and creating questions that the Church is ill-equipped to handle currently. I believe we as a Church must move past the stigma of infertility in order to be able to grapple with these bio-ethical dilemmas that both this generation and the next will be forced to answer.

Finding answers (IVF)

After about 2 years of trying to get pregnant, we finally went to a fertility clinic. We really wrestled with the ethics of IVF and what was best for us. We went to multiple adoption agencies and looked into fostering. We really still want to adopt and have always seen it as a wonderful option for us, but also wanted biological kids. We wanted to see this out, but kept also pursing the options of adoption at the same time. After much prayer and research, we knew that our hearts were with Chinese adoption. Derek lived in China for a year and both of us have worked at an orphanage there for several years. However, we learned that you have to be 30 in order to adopt a child from China. I longed to be 30. While we waited, we decided we could at least go to the fertility clinic and see what they had to say. Our preconceived notions of IVF were so different than what we were told on our first visit to the fertility doctor. First of all, for the first time in 2 years we got an answer from the doctors as to what could be wrong. He said that he was 90% sure that the cilia lining my fallopian tubes were not working. The only way to test this to know 100% is to put radiation into my ovaries which would in turn sterilize me…which wasn’t an ideal option. haha. Since we had been trying for 2 years and the only successful pregnancy ended up ectopic, there is evidence that I do ovulate, but that the egg can’t be carried into my uterus because the cilia that carry the egg were not functioning properly. Because of this diagnosis, IUI was not a probable solution for us. Essentially, we were told that IVF was our only option if we wanted a biological child. Honestly, even though this was really hard to hear, having someone give me an answer and a reason other than “you stress too much,” was freeing.  It allowed us to really start moving forward. For so long we had just been in limbo. We thought there was something wrong and we just kept waiting and waiting  and finally we could make a plan. haha Sorry, it’s funny now looking back that I still thought I could make a “plan” even after everything we went through. I definitely did not plan on triplets. People ask me all the time if I planned on having triplets. Does anyone “plan” to have triplets??? Anyway, I honestly believe that even if the doctor had said that even IVF wouldn’t work for us, having an answer and a direction (direction is much better than plan, lets stick with that) having a direction for what was next was a breath of fresh air. If you are still in the middle of waiting and wondering and questioning – whether it’s with infertility or not – just know that waiting is a season. It’s a season that isn’t fun, but it’s a season and hopefully in that season, God will make you a better you. God definitely molded me and shaped me in our waiting. He taught me to be still and to enjoy the stillness which is a huge feat. He taught me to listen better and to not be afraid of doubt or unanswered questions. He taught me to have compassion for the broken. He reminded me that I have incredible cheerleaders all around me. Life is full of waiting seasons. This wasn’t my first and it won’t be my last one. So, Im learning to let myself mourn and be sad but also to allow myself to be shaped in the waiting.

Anyway, back to IVF…For most of our infertility journey, both Derek and I were against IVF. We thought the chances of it working were low, it was way to expensive, and we both love adoption. So, when the doctor told us that IVF was our only option, it was weird that both of us didn’t immediately shut him out. We listened as he explained that the odds of us getting pregnant through IVF were incredibly high. Science has come so far now and my uterus and eggs were in great shape. So we listened to him explain the process and so many of our fears and preconceived ideas seemed to fall away. The cost was still getting me though. I thought it just seemed so crazy to pay all this money and not know for sure if it would work, when I could pay money to an adoption agency and guarantee that it would work. I did lots of research and realized that the chance of it working was really high for me. On the day that I finally decided that I wanted to try IVF, a friend got into a car wreck and totaled her car. She was fine, but she had to buy a whole new car. We don’t think twice about spending $20,000 on a new car. And if our kids need a surgery or a special tutor or private tuition or really anything, we would pay it in a heartbeat. It made me realize that my reasoning for not doing IVF should not be based solely on money. I spend money on things all the time, so why was it hard to spend money in order to have a chance at a biological baby. I really do understand that some people have ethical issues with IVF, and I understand that it is not the right journey for others. Derek and I still really want to adopt, but for me, choosing to do IVF was the same as other people choosing to have a biological child the “normal” way. It just cost a little more money. People choose everyday to have biological children instead of or in addition to adopting and we don’t think twice if someone gets pregnant the “normal” way. My biological children just cost a little more and took a little longer to get here. Science rocks by the way. I love that I was able to have this opportunity thanks to amazing scientists that figured out how to bypass my non working fallopian tubes and place a baby straight into my uterus. It’s actually pretty incredible. Later this week, Derek will post answers to common about the ethics of IVF and questions that we have been asked or had ourselves in this process. So, be on the lookout for that soon. Next week, I will detail our first round of IVF so if you are curious what that looks like, stay tuned!