Sunday, February 21, 2010

Hurtling Towards Healing

I am convinced that someday soon, maybe in twenty, thirty years, we will view treatments like chemotherapy the same way we currently view treating a sick person with leeches.  "You mean to say that you tried to cure cancer by flooding the body with toxins and poisons and chemicals that slowly destroy the person's immune system and simultaneously destroy the cancer too, if the person is lucky? How utterly barbaric."

After all, curing someone through chemotherapy is, more or less (probably less), the same principle as using leeches.  Leeches are horrible little worms that suck blood out of the person's body, hopefully sucking the person's ailment out with it.  We now know that bloodletting with leeches isn't really an effective cure for most ailments, though it was used by the mainstream medical community for centuries.  I wonder if new scientific advances will obscure chemotherapy the same way.  I think they will.

I think the same thing will happen with assisted reproduction. Right now, I am in the early stages of my IVF treatment, but in a week or so, I will have to start giving myself five injections a day.  That's right folks, five nasty, painful injections, four in my stomach and one in my backside.  Not all of them will hurt that much, but frankly, I get pretty queasy at the sight of the two-inch needles alone.  This daily injection schedule will take place for two weeks, over the course of which I will be ultrasounded and have my blood drawn and tested every other day.  How much fun does that sound like?  Two weeks.  I am terrified.  I can't believe that all that most people have to do to have a baby is have sex.

I've been watching injection how-to videos on YouTube in order to get myself used to the idea, and truthfully, it is just frightening me more.  All my life, I've been a little queasy about needles.  I have mildly low blood pressure, and when I have blood drawn, I usually feel sick afterwards and have even passed out on occasion.  It is a horrible feeling.   I am also "blessed" with pale skin and really crummy invisible veins.  Nine times out of ten, phlebotomists have to try at least twice to get the needle in right.  I recently had to have an IV put in and the nurse tried four times to get the damned needle in (while my hand blew up like a water balloon), until the anesthesiologist shoved her aside and did it himself.  It's not so much the pain of the needle prick that I mind, it's the whole gestalt of needles and such.  It's just not fun.  There is something visceral and barbaric about it.

I've basically sailed through my life, thank you very much God, healthy as a horse.  I get a few nasty colds  every year and that's it.  Until last year, I even had all my wisdom teeth.  In my twenties,  I don't think I saw a doctor more than once or twice.  I feel like since I hit forty, my body has been on a steady decline.  I remember attending a class given by Tziporah Heller, in my late twenties, when she said, "the one thing that you can count on in life is that your body will fail you.  For some of us, it happens sooner; for some lucky ones, it happens later.  But it will happen.  Count on it.  You can watch your diet, exercise, do all the right things, but the body is designed to wear out eventually.  So don't be disappointed or surprised when it happens."

Don't get me wrong.  I'm not on death's doorstep.  Far from it.  As part of my fertility workup, I had to have a complete, multi-level physical:  total blood workup, stress test, chest x-ray, complete ob/gyn exam, name it, it's been tested, and thank God, except for the infertility, I am in pretty good shape.   So why does it feel like my body is rebelling?  I guess what I really want to know is, why the hell can the rest of the world have babies and I can't?  Not a day goes by when I don't ask myself this.  I am going to have to give myself five shots a day for 15 days to have a baby.  My neighbor down the block just had her fifth child.  Basically, when she and her husband share a toothbrush, she gets pregnant.  When he looks at her funny, she gets pregnant.  When they eat popcorn at the movies out of the same bag, she gets pregnant.

I heard an interesting and controversial dvar Torah about two years ago.  The upshot of it was that as the universe hurls itself towards the coming of the Mashiach (this conjures up an interesting Star Trek visual for me), the world  is actually healing and unwinding from the primal sins of Creation, and slowly, God is lifting the punishments that He imposed on Adam and Chava, as part of the Tikkun.  Think about it.  Most (or at least many) men in civilized societies do not earn their bread "by the sweat of their brow" any more.  Most men are not hunters or farmers; they sit in front of computers, or in classrooms, or are writing, or are investing, or they sell things in stores, or they treat patients and clients, etc.  I think in ten years, half the white-collar workforce will probably be telecommuting and won't even have to leave their homes.  How many men do you know are riding behind a plow all day? The fact is that "work" today doesn't mean the same thing that it did thousands of years ago, or even a hundred years ago, because the majority of us don't live in an agricultural society and the majority of men are not engaged in back-breaking labor.  And as far as Chava's punishment, most women in civilized society do not die in childbirth anymore, and thanks to epidurals, controlled breathing, etc. even the pain of childbirth labor is minimized.   Women can take ibuprofen and exercise to deal with most menstrual pain. Giving birth and most of what goes along with it, though essentially the exact same process, is no longer something most women fear.  "The curse" is at most an inconvenience.  The gift of medical science has removed most of the dangers and pain involved.  The punishments of the Garden are slowly being lifted and unwound as we move towards the beginning of the next era.  Pretty cool observation, whether you buy into it or not.  I actually like it (though I can see where many people would scoff at this).

But, there are still men who earn their living by sweat of their brow and often by their blood as well. And sadly, there are still women who die in childbirth, or who have horribly painful birth experiences, or women who cannot conceive at all or women who must put themselves through a painful and rigorous process in order to conceive.  I sometimes wonder if assisted reproduction is part of the whole Edenic punishment reversal process. I mean, if I had been born fifty years earlier, my chances at having a child would be zero (not that I even know what's wrong with me, or why I haven't had one, mind you).  All the advanced scientific research for assisted reproduction has taken place very recently.  Even now, in the last decade, there is new technology that has changed the nature of IVF, allowing for older women to have more normal pregnancies, by pre-screening embryos before implantation.   It's mind-boggling how far assisted reproduction has come in the last few years and how much better the statistics are.  Once again, thank you very much God.

And yet, I still have to give myself five shots a day for fifteen days.  I still have endured weeks of testing, poking, prodding, etc. As someone who is in the middle of the actual  process, I still view it as brutal, barbaric, and painful.  And I still can't believe that all some people (most people!) need to do is just have sex.

I do think that maybe in twenty, thirty years, IVF will become an injection-free, much more painless process.  And along those same lines, I think chemotherapy will go on the shelf with leeches and bloodletting.  I hope we will continue hurtling towards our redemption and that the gifts of technology and science will continue to help and heal us.

Coffee with Amy

Got together with Amy this week.  Amy is someone I was moderately friendly with when I was first married (pre-divorce).  She has three kids, all gotten by IVF, so I thought I'd bend her ear a little and get some advice from her.

So we got together at the nearest Bux, and started slurping down the slop, decaff for me since I started my fertility treatment.  I do love my Java, even if it's Starbuck's horrible brew (I'm a Dunkin Donuts coffee girl, but Starbucks has nicer cafes).  After about an hour, Amy confessed to me that she and Bruce were seeing a marriage counselor.  And that she thought about leaving him about three times a day.  And, having been down that road myself, did I have any words of wisdom for her.

Eesh.   And here I was being all jealous of Amy and everything.  She has kids.  She is married to a lawyer.  She hasn't worked in the entire 15 years she's been married.  She's pretty and thin.  She strikes me as a happy person.  But, she's not.

Bruce, apparently, has trouble telling her he loves her, and so consequently, she feels very unloved.  Yes, she hasn't worked since she got married, but that's because she has all these medical issues, and since she's the stay-at-home Mom, she's stuck with all the housework.

"Basically, I am there to be Bruce's slave, to pick up his socks and dry-cleaning, to raise his children, and to have sex with him.  Not so fulfilling.  I want out."

After I got over the shock wave of her confession and "the grass is always greener" stopped replaying in my head like a old Barry Manilow song that you can't shake, I told her this.  I said, if you still love Bruce (she does), keep up the marriage therapy and work on the marriage.  Divorce is horrible.  It's gut-wrenching and horrible.  It's a last resort.

"But it sounds like your divorce saved your marriage," she replied.

I told her that in some weird way, that was true, but that we were not to be used as any sort of example of good marital behavior.  What happened to us was very, very unusual.  After a year and a half of virtually no contact, my husband decided to do whatever it took to put our marriage back together and to make our marriage work, almost unilaterally, and I followed suit.  But you just can't expect that kind of stuff to happen to everyone.  We also didn't have kids.  "Do you have any idea," I said, "what divorce will do to your kids?  Work it out.  Figure it out."

Amy cried a lot.  She's been through so much with Bruce.   Medical issues, religious crises, infertility, financial strains, everything.  She and Bruce are an interesting match.  Bruce is very bright, overly-educated, frum-from-birth, ex NY'er, a little cold, not very good looking.  Amy is model-pretty, midwestern ba'alat teshuvah, not hyper-academic, very warm and spiritual.  I wouldn't have put them together.  But I am pretty bad at matchmaking.  I tend to be very shallow about it.  Amy is taller than Bruce.  That alone would have thrown me.

I picked Amy's brain about IVF, and found out that she has been through hell-and-back to conceive and give birth to her kids.  It's funny, I never really thought of her as an overly strong person.  She comes off as a bit ditzy.  As I get older, I find more and more that many people are simply not whom they seem to be.  (What really throws me is that I am not whom I seem to be.)

Our coffee convo went on for hours, which was unusual because I'm not feeling very social these days.  I've been through months of medical testing, had enough blood drawn to create a whole new person, and I'm on a variety of meds that make me cry for no reason.  But I couldn't tear myself away from Amy, and she really seemed to need to talk.  My heart was breaking for her marriage and for what she's been through and for how hard she was working to keep it all together.  I wanted to help, but knew that I couldn't.

I've been so wrapped up in myself, more so than ever lately.  I've been slacking off on what little work I have, I stopped returning phone calls and emails from friends, and I haven't been to shul in almost two months.  I'm totally focused on this baby thing.  Dealing with all this medical testing and insurance issues is an all-consuming full-time job.  I don't have the emotional energy to deal with anyone else's stuff.  But there was Amy, pouring it all out to me.  I listened, I ordered more coffee, and listened some more.  It's funny; Amy and I are not particularly close but I find her very easy to talk to. 

I've been so narcissistic lately, I forgot that the rest of the world has problems too. 

Even more on babies

I've always thought that my life would make an excellent sit-com.  There are times when I simply pause, think about how things are going, and I just want to do a laugh-or-cry thing.  Mostly cry.

My family seems to provide an endless supply of material for The Web Girl Show.  My mother and siblings and extended family are a jumble of crazy, slightly self-centered wackies.  The are also well-meaning and generous to a fault, and I love them all to pieces, but they do make me insane sometimes.  Our current crisis is: what shall we name The Child That We Don't Have.

My Mom and siblings know that we are going to do IVF, because, well, I don't see why this is shameful (big difference to me between private and shameful), and they are my family. Understanding our need for privacy and the fact that I am currently being pumped full of mood-altering hormones, they are mostly staying out of it, except for occasionally emailing me some annoying article about assisted fertility or (equally annoying) asking how things are going.  But this week, my Mom called.

"I've been thinking about what you should call the baby."
"Mom, there is no baby yet.  There might not be a baby.  Can we not have this conversation now?"
"You need to think about these things.  There will be a baby, God willing.  Don't worry about that."

Good grief.

So if The Child That We Don't Have is a boy, his name is a no-brainer.  My Dad passed away several years ago and naming a son after him would be an incredible comfort to me.  No one expects me to do any differently.  My husband totally agrees.  My father also had a very nice name.  I sometimes think it would be weird to call my son by my father's name, because that when I say it, I think of no one but my father.  But I'm sure that will pass with time.

Given that if the The Child That We Don't Have is a male, his name is not really negotiable, I told my husband that if the The Child That We Don't Have is a female, he could pick the name (but I still retain veto power).  Truth is, most of my relatives that have passed away already have descendants with their names...same thing on my husband'sside.  Picking a daughter's name doesn't seem that urgent to me, as long as it's a pretty, meaningful, Jewish name.

Enter Mom.  Mom has a list.  A list of female, deceased relatives after whom we are not to name The Child That We Don't Have.  Some very definite ideas of female, deceased relatives after whom we are to name The Child That We Don't Have, in a very definite order (first name, middle name).  My Mom doesn't make that many requests of me, and I'm a little torn up about this.  I"m sort of pushing the whole thing aside, as frankly, the IVF issue alone has me so tense and nervous, that I'm not even thinking about the aftermath.  When I tell my husband about this, he laughs and says he hopes this will be our biggest problem.

I can sometimes visualize The Child That We Don't Have.  It's sort of genderless and very cute, a total love magnet.  I can picture myself lugging it to shul in one of those jogger strollers.  I can picture us bringing it home from the hospital, losing myself in being its mother, not giving a damn about work or the stock market or clients or bills.  I can picture skyping his/her little image to my Mom and in-laws.  I can picture a lot of things, when I let myself.  I don't often let myself.  Statistically, my chances of having The Child That We Don't Have are not too great.

I have never been so scared in my whole life.