ivfjourney

Presence please as a new chapter begins

By Wendy Winiewski

It's been more than two years since the day we found out I was pregnant and 17 months since my daughter was born. I can comfortably say I was at peace with my body for nearly a year after her birth. Although I didn't conceive naturally I carried a pregnancy to term, easily recovered from a cesarean and kept my girl alive exclusively from my body for the first six months of her life through breastfeeding and just recently at more than 16 months of age, we finally had our final feeding.

 

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It's a job I've enjoyed. It was tough the first few months as I fed at her beckon call whether my tired body or aching boobs wanted me to or not. As the months have worn on breastfeeding became one of our favourite times of the day. After a long day of work for me and a long day of toddler-ing for her, it was our moment. The world slowed, our eyes would lock, her free hand felt smooth and light as a feather as it rubbed lovingly along my arm. I've spent the better part of 66 entire days feeding her according to my rough calculations. In our final months it would happen as naturally as most daily tasks. My lap and my legs knew exactly how to fold, my arms found their positioning and her baby body would slide into its spot like a hand in a pair of well worn gloves. Until her final day, we hadn't missed a single day since she was born. I appreciated our feedings as it's something my hypothalamic amenorrhea (HA) ridden body shouldn't even have been able to do. 

Uncertain if she will be the first and last baby I ever have, I hesitated to eliminate this bonding time, if it weren't for that lingering question that's been bouncing around in my brain increasingly in the past few months - "will my cycle return when I stop breastfeeding?" 

"Return" is an interesting concept to me. How can something that hasn't happened naturally for me in more than a decade "return"? I began taking oral contraceptives in 2007. My last 'natural' menstrual cycle would have been immediately before that. Somewhere in there my body lost its rhythm and I'm hoping that the surge of hormones produced during pregnancy, will have been enough to kick start my reproductive system. Nothing I've read scientifically proves this happens, but we've all heard the story about so and so's friend who conceived via reproductive technology then, voila, got pregnant with another child out of the blue. 

The pressure to have a second child is heavy. Not nearly as heavy as the pressure I put on myself and others put on me, to have a first child, but it's still heavy nonetheless. Realistically, it's the only reason I've eliminated breastfeeding. 

We're building a new house. It has three bedrooms on the second floor. It doesn't escape me that tradespeople we encounter during the building process refer to the bedrooms as "the kid's rooms". After-all, any true family has at least two children, right? Many of those within my circle of friends who had children around the time Aeralyn was born, are now pregnant with another. It doesn't escape me that I'm not. It doesn't escape me that I may never be. My cycle may not miraculously return. The remaining embryo, Aeralyn's sibling/twin, waiting for us at our clinic may not survive being thawed. I may not have it in me to go through infertility treatment again.

And so here I am, caught in this place where I wanted to hang onto these special moments with a child who is possibly my one and only, yet knowing I needed to move forward to explore whether we can have a second child.

While it's difficult to enjoy the present while feeling restless about the future, I have managed to do just that. I fully and wholeheartedly breathe her in every. single. day. I put my cell phone away, our television is off during her awake hours, I try to complete the majority of my daily tasks while she's napping, and this allows me to just be present with her. I'm present. It's something I struggled to achieve pror to Aeralyn's birth. It's something I still struggle with now in other elements of my life. Somehow though, I have found present-mindedness, with her.

This poem is one I read years ago:

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It's one I bring to mind often when my days seem busy or my girl is standing in the kitchen reaching up to be held with a book in hand and I have a list a mile long that needs to be completed. Before long I find myself sitting cross-legged on the kitchen floor with Aeralyn in my lap, food on the counters, and Old Mother Goose - nursery rhymes animatedly rolling from my mouth... because I never know when it will be the last time.

Her last time nursing is a moment I'm comfortable with. I've been weaning her ever so slowly since roughly eight months old. Eliminating feedings one at a time, and the last feeding, the one before bed literally being eliminated over the course of a month and a half getting progressively shorter each day. I breathed in the moment. My heart fluttered. My emotions came to my eyes but didn't spill over because I know the end of one journey means the beginning of the next.

Now a new journey begins, and that's the journey to growing our family. I hope to be present. Wish us luck...

The Birth of a Big Idea: The FFFS

When I wrote a blog post about a past miscarriage in the early days of my blogging career, I had no idea the response I would receive. CBC radio asked me to come on air and discuss my fertility and miscarriage and even added an article for their online content. CBC National picked up that online article and from there the views on my blog soared, the messages poured in and beautiful experiences presented themselves to me.

Out of my grief and experiences came a better gift: a purpose to help others. 

Out of my grief and experiences came a better gift: a purpose to help others. 

 

I was overwhelmed to say the least. To add even more excitement and awe to this incredible start to blogging, an old co-worker, Dani Friesen, reached out to me for a coffee meeting to discuss an idea she had. She was heartbroken to see many of her friends suffering with infertility and even more, she was appalled at the cost and financial devastation some couples were taking to try to conceive. She wanted to start a charity that raised funds for families to help pay for their fertility treatments. And she wanted my help.

I was honoured and confused; what did I know about charity work or fundraising? But Dani was confident I was a good fit and we began researching and planning immediately. I contacted Dr. Adrian Gamelin, the co-owner of Aurora IVF in Saskatoon to ask for her assistance. Her exact words: “we’ve been waiting for someone to do this.” She was on board to act as our medical consultant and help us decipher medical information. From there, Gamelin suggested we meet with Wendy Winiewski, a Global news anchor and mother who had her daughter via IVF. The three of us met, saw how well our personalities, skills and stories complimented each other and Family Fertility Fund was underway! Since then we’ve added one more valuable board member, Kristie Anne MacDonald who we know will be an immense help to FFFS and to all those who apply, reach out and/or work with.

Dani, myself, Wendy. Not pictured: Kristie Anne but you'll all see her soon enough!

Dani, myself, Wendy. Not pictured: Kristie Anne but you'll all see her soon enough!

 

It’s been hard. We obviously knew it would be challenging but hard work of getting a business off the ground aside, reading the applications from our applicants was heart wrenching and emotionally draining. We’ve done one round of funding where we gave $5,000 to one couple in December. Our criterion and selection method are based upon a grading process combined with an extensive application that reviews medical history, prognosis and financial statements. We ask for a fertility history as well as personal statements from both people on the application. We short list three couples who then receive a second medical evaluation form that is more thorough and in depth. That form is filled out by their physician and then sent to Gamelin who helps us decipher their diagnosis and prognosis. Her input is valuable but ultimately, the decision comes down to finances. What have they previously spent on treatment? What are their assets? Do they have any savings? Are they going to Mexico twice a year knowing their infertility diagnosis and quoted treatment costs? Have they made financial sacrifices? What’s their income to debt ratio? What percentage is their car payment out of their monthly income? Do they have student debt? Do they have a maxed line of credit from previous treatments? Do they spend frivolously?

As you can probably imagine, there is a lot that goes into the decision and it weighs heavily on us. On top of sifting through bank statements, budgets and medical jargon, we also catch a personal glimpse of who they are and how they’ve been impacted by their struggle from the story they share. Some even included pictures. When tasked with the fate of someone’s fertility, you can’t turn into a robot and let numbers and cents dictate your decision. There must be an element of humanity and compassion in the process.

The couple we chose for our fall funding met our expectations and medical and financial criterion. Without divulging their names, diagnosis or financial status, we wanted to share with you, many of you who have contributed donations and money to our organization already, an excerpt from their personal statement to show you how deserving and incredible these two people are:

From the wife, her first words were: “I am blessed. I really, truly am blessed with what and who I have in my life.” Despite her many fertility challenges and losses, she still has gratitude and finds the silver lining in a very dark cloud. She acknowledged her struggles and yet focuses on moving forward. She continued, “I still have hard days but I feel as though time really helps to heal. This year has been packed full of some of the most difficult moments I have ever faced. I truly feel that this year has tested my resiliency. I have learned that some things don’t always turn out the way you planned it or the way you think they should. I have also learned that things are bound to go wrong and can’t always be put back together the way they once were. But the biggest thing I have learned is that you can still come out on top if you are surrounded by the people who love you.”

Tough times are the biggest teachers for most people. They teach you strength or resiliency and sometimes, who to walk away from and who to embrace. They can also make you resentful and bitter. Hard times are just that, hard and infertility is such a hard beast; it’s a huge hovering menace that infiltrates every thought, move and decision. It takes over the lives of those it infects. To find a couple who could still embrace the good, acknowledge the bad and find strength to move forward was hard hitting for our selection committee.

Her husband’s story affected us even more. Upon finding out their first IVF cycle failed, he said, “ I was brought back down to reality when [wife] called me at work the next day to tell me that we did not have any embryos to be frozen. After hanging up with her, I had to leave the shop and have a moment to myself. I kept this a secret from [wife] knowing that she was at home having her own moment. I was more worried about how she felt. If there is one thing that came out of this horrible situation is that it brought me closer to my wife.”

Their story combined with their past struggles, life circumstances, financial status and medical history led us to choose them. It was a night to remember when the FFFS directors got together December 21 to deliver the best Christmas gift we could ever imagine giving: funding for their last chance to have a baby.

Delivering the $5,000 we raised from two online auctions and two events to Aurora IVF on behalf of our recipients

Delivering the $5,000 we raised from two online auctions and two events to Aurora IVF on behalf of our recipients

It was incredibly difficult to give bad news to eight other deserving couples. It broke our hearts to tell them they hadn’t been selected even though they all deserved a chance. Here we were, a group of women trying to help, and yet, breaking hearts along the way. It stung. But the joy, disbelief and tears we heard over our speaker phone conversation was enough to know that we were doing something good for our community and that we needed to continue. My husband Clayton, a farm boy with a tough exterior, filmed the conversation and even he had tears in his eyes witnessing such a magical moment. We all cried that night; tears of joy and happiness and tears for the others who were now back at square one with their treatment options.  I’m actually tearing up remembering it now. With more funding, we could help more people than one recipient each round. With more money, we hope to one day fund all the applicants who apply. With more money, we can help more babies join us earthside. This is why fundraising and charity is so important for us: We give a family hope. We give a family a chance. And hopefully, we will give a family their baby.