Nothing is Normal

I hid this onesie well.  I also hid vodka well.  Unfortunately, when you tell your family you need to pack up and go to rehab in a drunken stupor, they do a serious search for bottles of alcohol to eliminate.

I remember turning 13.  My mom made it extra special because it was the first “teen” birthday.  Birthdays were always special, but she made it a cute little teenage theme with all sorts of silly things 13 years olds like.  One thing that she got me was kept separate from my gifts from family and friends was a book about periods…what to expect, questions, anatomy, that type of thing.  It came with a cute bracelet that I still wear on weeks when I have my period.  She gave me the book, told me to read it on my own, and then we could discuss it together once I did.  I remember taking it in, every bit of it, and trying to memorize what to expect for my first period.  I knew that once I got my period, it was like I was becoming a lady…a young woman who could actually produce a child.  Had it been hundreds of years ago, I probably would have been married off already to some twenty something waiting impatiently for me to get my period so that he could have his first-born son.  A strong son who would carry the family name for hundred of years to come.  Alas, it was almost the 21st century, and now a period was just an annoying thing that came every month.

Anyway, I didn’t end up getting my first period until I was 16.  Yes, I know- 16!  I was DYING to get it because literally every other girl had hers for years already.  I had to beg my mom to take my bra shopping…. because I didn’t have boobs.  I just wanted to fit in desperately but was a late bloomer.  I knew once you had your period, your boobs would start growing etc.  I was so impatient.  Of course, when I did get my first period, my mom was away visiting her mom in Minnesota.  My poor dad had to deal with the first period…he had to go buy the pads and tampons while mom excitedly spoke to me over the phone.  I just thought it was all weird and gross, but hey FINALLY IT HAPPENED! I wish they taught you more in school about periods and how everything works.  I didn’t feel like I knew anything except for what the book told me when I was 13.  I just knew if you didn’t get your period, it was scary because you could be pregnant.  But I wasn’t having sex….so why was my period not coming every month?  Nothing about my period was normal.

When I got my period, there was no rhyme or reason as to when it would come. Sometimes three months would go by and then sometimes it was like the flood gates of hell would open every other week. It was absolutely crazy. I got on birth control to regulate everything. I was not even sexually active yet.  My gynecologist was actually the one who popped my cherry…no not the cute soccer jock that I’d been lusting over since freshman year.  My OBGYN.  She popped it.  Luckily, I’ve stayed with the same lady since then- you never forget your first time right?!?  She’s a good friend now, and it’s absolutely hilarious to remember those days as a terrified 16-year-old.

I was on the pill from age 16 to when I got married at 30. I don’t know if they had IUDs and all that stuff when I was first getting on the pill.  I just know I was on whatever was popular at the time. I remember the first one caused me to gain 15 pounds, and at only 16, that was absolutely NOT acceptable. So we had to switch onto a different one that didn’t make me react that way and as soon as we found it, it stuck. I never thought anything about it; I just knew I didn’t want kids until I was married.

For years, I had my pill alarm set every evening at 5:45 PM to go off as “Baby Killer,” thinking this was absolutely hilarious because obviously at the time I didn’t want any babies.  My friends would hear the alarm and yell “TAKE YOUR BABY KILLER!”   Funny how you don’t want something when you’re younger and then when you can’t get it, when you are older, it is so absolutely devastating.  It’s embarrassing to remember those days now that I have been through so many fertility treatments.  But what I did know at that time was how I wanted my life to be sans bébé.  So I kept taking the pill without any further questions.

I didn’t realize how clueless I was about my own body until I actually was trying to get pregnant.  I don’t feel like sex Ed teaches you anything that you need to know. I had absolutely no idea that ovulation was such a specific time frame and you had to only be doing it within that timeframe for anything to happen. Like why wouldn’t they just teach you in high school how to calculate the exact time that you’re ovulating and track it; that way you know the exact days you should absolutely not be having sex.  Or if you do have sex those days, be extra careful!   Something!  I just knew that I needed to take my pill at the same time every day, be careful when having sex, and get my period every month.  The education we get at school about our bodies and how everything works is laughable. Most things I should have learned before becoming sexually active are things I actually learned going through the fertility process.   If it hadn’t been for my parents’ help, I would have been completely lost about EVERYTHING. 

I had absolutely no idea that being on birth control for 16 years could affect my fertility. I didn’t even think about it because the whole time I was on birth control I was trying NOT to get pregnant.  Once I wanted TO get pregnant, I was no longer on birth control, but I was now infertile due to being on it for so long! It’s like you can’t win either way.  My husband and I had been together for several years before getting married, so we knew we did not want to waste too much time before trying to get pregnant.  We weren’t necessarily going to try try, but we just got off the birth control and thought that nature would take its path. We thought it would be so simple.  Everyone else we knew had babies right away; some had them even when they were not trying.  How hard could it be to have kids?  We were in our early thirties and were healthy.  This couldn’t be normal, could it?

After a year of no birth control, it was obvious that nothing was working the way it should be. My BFF OBGYN said after that year we could start taking Clomid. We did, and I took it for about eight months.  It was absolutely pointless and stupid. The problem was not only the Clomid wasn’t working and my periods were not regular, but I was also drinking heavily.  Hey, you thought this was only a story about infertility!?  Guess what!?  It’s also a story about my path to sobriety- who knew we would get two stories in one! 

After about two years of marriage and trying for a baby, I knew I was drinking a ton, and I knew I didn’t want to stop. I wasn’t ready to stop. I couldn’t imagine my life without alcohol. I was absolutely terrified that if the Clomid worked and we did get pregnant, would I even be able to stop? I didn’t think I could, and I was terrified for my baby that it would be born with fetal alcohol syndrome because of my drinking. I was so selfish. I wasn’t telling anyone about my fears, and I was lying to all of my doctors about how much I drank.  My husband would see it though.  He would ask why was I drinking when there’s a possibility that we could be pregnant? I would say “it’s OK I haven’t had vodka today- I switched to wine.” The excuses I came up with were laughable, but I learned later that that’s what all addicts do. THIS actually IS normal! Ha

I’d been happily drinking since I turned 21.  I’d been UNhappily drinking for the past few years.  It had gotten pretty bad; bad enough that I knew there was a problem but was terrified to admit it.  I knew that getting pregnant would be the ultimate decision that would determine how serious of a drinker I was.  Our marriage was already on the rocks, due to the drinking mainly, but also because we wanted to start a family so badly and it was not working.  Which led to more drinking.   It was just an endless circle of destruction.   I finally reached my bottom, which is a whole other story in itself.  (That story is on a recovery blog, which you can find within my Instagram page here!) 

I admitted I needed help to stop drinking…I finally admitted there was a problem.  We found a rehab facility in town in which I would do a 28-day treatment plan.  I was so irritated that I would have to pause the fertility treatments because of how impatient I was becoming and how long it was already taking. But I knew that I had to be sober in order to get to that part of our journey.  I finally realized that I could not bring babies into this world drunk.  

The saddest thing was, I had already purchased a onesie with a little elephant on it that said, “Daddy I can’t wait to meet you.”  I was going to present this onesie to my husband once we got a positive pregnancy test.  I had this whole elaborate plan designed for how he would open the gift and see the onesie.  I hid this onesie well.  I also hid vodka well.  Unfortunately, when you tell your family you need to pack up and go to rehab in a drunken stupor, they do a serious search for bottles of alcohol to eliminate.  In this search, my husband found the onesie…with all the empty water bottles of vodka.  I can’t imagine how devastating this was for him to find.  I kept asking him if he had found a certain box during his search; he kept saying no.  I was perturbed that I couldn’t find the onesie because I still didn’t want him to know about it in case, we ever did get pregnant someday.  Finally, the day before I went to rehab, he brought the onesie up to me and said, “I found this and it made me start to sob.” I had to tell him the whole elaborate plan I had if we were to ever get pregnant, and how I was going to surprise him. We were both sobbing now, knowing that so many things were going to change.

We never realize how selfish we are in addiction.  I had no idea how I was hurting those around me.  Until this moment with my husband, I thought I was in this all alone, completely wrapped up in my own ego.  I finally saw what pain my husband was enduring as well, the pain I had caused all those times I was drunk, and he was scared.  The pain he had because he knew we couldn’t raise kids in a household filled with alcohol.  The pain he had because he knew who I was deep down and he wanted me to be the best person I could be.  We were going through all of this together…. I was not alone as I thought.

He told me he wanted me to take the onesie with me to rehab so that I could look at it and always remember why I was getting sober.  I kept it in my drawer, and I looked at it to remind myself of why I was trying to get better.  I had to get better for myself if I ever wanted to bring children in this world.  I had to do this for myself, for my husband, and for my future family.

January 12, 2017 was the last day I drank alcohol.  January 25, 2019 our twins were born.  After rehab, we gave my body some time to get healthy without alcohol before starting the fertility treatments again.  Then we did four IUIs, where ovulation is very clearly tracked with injections and medication so that my husband’s sperm could be implanted into me at my most fertile time.  All four failed.  It wasn’t only the alcohol that made it hard to get pregnant.  It was simply the fact that I can’t produce enough eggs for my age and my husband has abnormal sperm morphology (oddly shaped sperm).   The two combined make it nearly impossible to conceive naturally. We did everything possible before turning to IVF.  We went through hell to get pregnant. I cannot even count how many strangers fiddled around in my hooha. Or how many injections I gave myself (ME, who HAD a needle phobia)?

IVF is not only ridiculously expensive, but it is not covered whatsoever under insurance.  It is also one of the most emotionally draining procedures a person can go through.  The fact that it is not covered makes absolutely zero sense whatsoever.  Birth control pills are so easily handed out to millions of girls under the age of 18, yet when a young 30 year old couple can’t naturally conceive a child, the cost of the procedure makes it near impossible for most to even consider.  Why is it so easy to make sure life is NOT brought into the world?  Yet, when an actual couple that wants to start a family cannot do it on their own, it costs thousands of dollars out of pocket to even consider trying…ONCE.  We are lucky that we both have stable jobs, good income, and a decent savings account.  I feel like thousands of couples probably chose not to go through the IVF process based on cost alone.  And that makes me terribly sad.  The idea of not being able to conceive your own child is haunting, terrifying, and completely shattering.  Nobody wants to be told “you can’t conceive naturally.”  But we were.  So we did what we had to.

Hundreds of needles, bloodwork, shots, pills, stabs, bruises, cries, and moans later, we made it to implantation day. We were able to get 7 healthy eggs during my retrieval (which is not a ton, but still OK).  5 of them they thought would be viable, and by the day of implantation, there were 4 embryos available.  It was a Sunday, so the area of the hospital was quiet. It seemed like it was only open for us. As I lay back, ready for more strangers to get up in my hoo-ha, they asked how many embryos I wanted to put in.  It was kind of like they were encouraging only one. In my mind, I thought, really? I never want to go through this again. I don’t only want one kid. Will I have to go through all of this for another? But I am not good at sticking up for myself. I whispered, “Ok whatever you guys think.” My husband looked at me- he knew. He said “baby this is your body. This is your choice. Are you sure you only want one?” I said “No, but they think it’s the best way.” He said “Who cares…this is for us. This isn’t their decision.” At the last second I was able, I yelled out “No I want two!” The doctors scurried back to retrieve the next healthiest embryo. 

The next two weeks were grueling.  The first indication I had that I was pregnant was the fact that cheese sounded gross (I LOVE CHEESE)!.  We finally got to the day we could take the pee test…and there it was.  A positive.  We couldn’t believe it.  We were both crying in the bathroom- dumbfounded.  We really didn’t believe it was true.  After all the failures, the negative tests, was this real?

Then, the continuous negativity continued.  At our first ultrasound, fertility docs saw two embryos.  They said Twin A was unviable, didn’t have a heartbeat, and would not make it to the next ultrasound. But Congrats! You’re pregnant! The conflicting news was devastating and elating. We were so confused. I was so angry these doctors could take my happiness away so quickly.  It was as if after all that we went through, they so easily were able to say “sorry this one won’t make it.” Without batting an eye.  The fact that it was so easy to move on, like it wasn’t even there, was surreal.  I wouldn’t allow it.  

I knew Twin A would survive.; those docs were absolutely wrong.  I had this gut feeling.  There were two in there.  I asked for two and I got two.  I just knew it.  At the next ultrasound, the doctors were blown away.  They found two heartbeats.  I wanted to slap them across the faces and say “See, I told you!”  But I didn’t.  Like I said, I rarely stick up for myself.  But yes! I proved myself right!  We were having TWINS!

Twin pregnancy was no joke.  Absolutely the worst thing ever.  No one prepares you for it.  No one tells you what your hormones feel like, how crappy you feel, how tired you are, and how nothing makes sense anymore.  I absolutely detested being pregnant.  Despised it more than anything.  Here I was whining about it WHEN IT WAS ALL I WANTED FOR SO LONG.  What was wrong with me?!

I find out this is all completely normal.  Twin pregnancies are incredibly hard.  I had nothing to compare it to, so to me it was normal.  That is how it is bringing up twins.  People say, “oh wow you’ve got your hands full.”  Well no shit.  But I would rather have them full than empty.  I don’t know what raising just one child is like…so to me it is all normal.  But nothing about our story is normal.  My periods were never normal, my hormones, my ovulation, my eggs, and finally, my husband’s sperm. Nothing about having the egg and sperm mixed together by a team of doctors is normal.  And having it all shoved up inside me with a probe…. not normal.  No one tells you any of these things are possible.  All of it is all so surreal and abnormal.  Not even delivery is normal.  You automatically have to be in an operating room for a twin pregnancy in case something goes wrong and an emergency c -section is needed.  After pushing in the “normal” delivery room, I was moved to the OR, where 14 people gathered around my open legs staring into my insides waiting for heads to pop out.  They were having “normal” conversations about their plans for the weekend as I was pushing a human out of my vagina.  NOT NORMAL!

Twin A was born first, and immediately sent to the NICU. Something was wrong.  Again, something not normal.  Something that they could not have identified in utero. He had a tracheoesophageal fistula, esophageal atresia, all along with tracheomalacia.  The esophageal atresia would cause him to die without surgery. He had surgery on day 1 of life. It was just the beginning. Within the first few months, he almost died four times with us and more times in the hospital. My husband did CPR on him several times, while I called 911 with the other twin in my arms. I will never forget his limp body, completely white, no color, watching my husband do tiny compressions and blow into his tiny mouth. We did not know how severe his tracheomalacia was. It was the worst anyone in our state had seen. He spent over 50 days in the hospital in his first 7 months before finally having a lifesaving tracheopexy. 

And here we all are today, alive and striving.  Not one thing came to us naturally or easily throughout this process.  And man it wasn’t cheap!  We have given our savings and our souls for these babies.  And we look at how perfect they are, how happy they are, how great of a team they are.  We made them.  We made this possible.  This happened because of our long, messy, abnormal journey. Nothing about our journey was easy or perfect.  But what is the fun of the journey if there aren’t detours along the way?

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