Sunday 27 January 2013

On normalizing. And being irrational.

Since I don't have any IF treatments scheduled, and won't for likely many more months, this blog and the thinking and research we doing around IF has a couple of  purposes.

1) Learn about the diagnosis and possible paths to take, so that we have a plan and are as informed as possible when we do start medical testing and interventions

2) Normalize the diagnosis and what it means.

#2 is pretty significant for me. I am very grateful for the Internet and the wealth of stories  on it, which has already done a lot to normalize things for me and help me to realize that many others have walked a similar path, or will be setting out on one. I began the normalizing process from the time I started charting on Ovagraph.  Since discovering Stirrup Queens and committing to learning about and thinking through IF, I've been searching out and reading blogs on a fairly regular basis.

What I like best about the blogs are  the human voices. When I heard that IVF was most likely in our future, the first thing I did was read everything about the process on the clinic website. The clinic website is very thorough and informative, and reading the information gave me some confidence that the doctors will probably know what they are doing. Reading about IVF also made me feel like my body was going to become somebody's science experiment. I have nothing whatever against (ethical) scientific research and experimentation, but I  prefer it to happen in a lab somewhere, not inside my uterus and endocrine system. That's a little close for comfort. I also have had next to no medical intervention in my life. I have never had a serious illness. The only prescription drugs I have ever taken are antibiotics or pain-killers to assist with recovery from temporary illness or injury.  I have never been on the Pill. My approach to my physical self is this: If it's working fine, be grateful and don't mess with it. (And don't let anyone else mess with it.) When I switched doctors, it took 5 minutes to go over my medical history. Dr. Gnomish was impressed. "Most people show up with a bag of prescriptions and a medical history as long as their arm."

Mr. Turtle has a different history. Diagnosed with a chronic condition in his teens, he has a history of medical interventions (some helpful, some dangerous, thanks to medical incompetence) and he has been taking prescription medication for several years as part of his management plan.  (He is also very responsible about taking care of his health.) I don't know if having a history of treatments makes a person more accepting of the necessity of future treatments. It seems to me like it would, but I could be totally wrong. But for me, the prospect of extensive medical intervention does feel like a challenge to my identity. I've always assumed I would be able to live without it, barring a life- or sanity- threatening illness. It's not a moral qualm (not yet, anyway): I don't think IVF is unethical or immoral. (Why is maybe another post.) It's a matter of trying to adjust my sense of reality.

Reading people's stories on their blogs reassures me, I think, that undergoing fertility treatments doesn't make someone less human. IF is definitely a challenge to one's identity and assumptions, but people can deal with that challenge and continue on with their lives. I am deeply reassured  to hear this, and even as I try to learn more of the medical information and the "nitty gritty," I continue to feel a need to remind myself of this truth.

Then there's my irrational side.

One of the best (in hindsight) aspects of the  year I spend living abroad  was that I confronted my irrationality. My irrational side was  present long before I ever started living abroad, of course, and I dealt with plenty of irrational impulses (like everybody).  But I didn't really confront or understand the power of  Turtle The Completely Irrational till I was in Europe. And dealing with homesickness.


I started feeling homesickness about 4 months after leaving home. I felt like my mind had turned into a high-tech movie theatre that provided me with (highly idealized) images of Canada and my past life 24 hours a day. It didn't matter what I was doing. It didn't matter what I was thinking. I lived in a twilight zone of deja vu where memory leaned out of the past and ripped out the fabric of the present. At the worst moments, ever fibre of my body and mind told me to get a plane ticket and go back home. Immediately.

One thing stopped me, and that was because I was able to recognize these thoughts as irrational. My strongest impulse was to go back home so I could go to British Columbia in the summer time, like I used to do as a child on vacation. But it was the middle of winter. Even if I hopped on a plane that moment and was back in Canada, there was no way I could make the images in my mind reality.

Once I'd figured that out, I could give my rational mind some space to reach the other following conclusions:

1) I hadn't yet accomplished what I wanted to do by going abroad, so if I went home immediately I would not be happy with the decision in  the long run
2) I could have many great experiences by staying in Europe for the time being. I needed to live in the present.
3) Major decisions should be made (mostly) rationally
4) I couldn't ignore or shut down the irrational side my mind. But I could accept it while not letting it control me.

I ended up staying in Europe several more months and having some great experiences and growing as a person.  When things got crazy I hopped on a bus, got out of the city, and spent hours walking in the hills by the sea, surrounding myself with beauty and calm.  The homesickness faded after a couple of months, leaving me instead with a heightened appreciation and love of what I had left behind. A few months later, I did happily return to Canada to stay, but not because of Irrational Turtle's prompting.  And having met Irrational Turtle, I learned to recognize her style. In other words, I learned to separate myself from my irrational thoughts, kind of, which is why I'm talking about myself partly in the 3rd person, which may sound pretty daft, I realize. Call it another coping mechanism.

Irrational Turtle has been back, with some new tricks, since we started trying to conceive.

On one hand, I think I'm being pretty rational. When we started TTC, I read up on pregnancy, childbirth and infancy, etc. Mr. Turtle and I talked about what we want our family to be like.  When IF entered the picture, we started learning about that. On the other hand...

There is. No Way. I can reach  the end of a menstrual cycle without picturing an embryo growing in there, imagining giving people news, counting forward to the months to a birthdate, mentally rearranging my life around a pregnancy. I do it every month. I don't tell anyone. Sometimes I deny to myself that I do it. But I do.  I don't know how much mental and emotional energy goes into this exercise. A lot. I can't admit to people what I'm doing. They just see me tired and preoccupied and sometimes apathetic.

For the first few months I would google early pregnancy symptoms, and stare at The First Week on the Endowment for Human Development's website. (What an incredible website that is.) Eventually I stopped doing that. I haven't even charted this cycle, which was when we learned about the male factor IF. I used the Ovacue up until ovulation, or possibly a day or two before, then stopped using it.

Now, at the end of the cycle, I still wonder if, if. Maybe Mr. Turtle had a good day the day we BD'd.  Maybe he just happened to give a bad sample the day of that sperm analysis. Maybe everybody is just wrong about everything and I'll get pregnant anyway. As long as AF isn't here, it could mean it happened, right?

A few months ago I started trying to cope with this by saying (to myself alone) that I have an Imaginary Baby at the end of every cycle. Basically I let the thoughts happen, but I put the adjective "imaginary" in front of nouns like "pregnancy", "embryo", "baby" etc. This helps a bit in that I can let the thoughts happen (Irrational Turtle cannot be shut up or argued with) but I don't let them become too real.  And then when the cycle ends, I can say goodbye to the imaginary baby. Not "feeding" the impulse with websites or googling also helps.

I think now that we know about the male factor IF, I also use Imaginary Baby fantasies as wish fulfillment for being "normal." Proving that I haven't fully accepted IF as the new normal. I also find myself feeling really rather kind and generous toward expecting parents/grandparents and others in the Fertile Club toward the end of a cycle. Because maybe this time I'm going to be part of that club. So I can like them and identify with them for a while. (Come AF, I'll want nothing to with the Fertile Club for several days, after which I'll slowly come to peace with their existence again.)

Something else that I do plan to do as another normalizing/coping exercise, is begin a knitted garment that is especially dedicated to TTC and IVF and  hopefully pregnancy. I absolutely won't touch or begin any baby stuff until there's a freaking ultrasound picture of a fetus.  But, I can make something for myself.

Till next time, sincerely, The Turtle

(with input from Irrational Turtle)


  1. Good idea to verbalize your thoughts and fears about IVF, to read up and to find out about other people's experiences. That's what I did too, and it gave me a sense of control over something that seemed incredibly weird and scary to me (at that time). Reading up is good because although we trust our doctors, we also need to be well-informed about the process and be our own advocate. Also, I totally understand what you mean when you say it feels like a science experiment - in reality, it's not that freaky. And also, the 'imaginary baby', the planning every month, those are normal thoughts too. The knitting is interesting though, sounds like it could be very therapeutic. Having a baby might seem unreal for now, but it will happen. It might take a little longer than what you expect, but it WILL happen.

  2. Thanks for the comment and reassurance! it is really great to hear someone say that yes, all of this is normal and OK. And I'm glad to hear you say that IVF is not actually that freaky.

    I haven't started the knitting therapy project, partly because I've been very busy and tired lately and most of my hobbies have gone by the wayside. But maybe this summer.