What can I expect from this blog?

The space Blogger gives me to give the blog description is inadequate for my needs (TWSS). So I will lay out the information here:

50% of my blog will be allocated for infertility rants.
50% of my blog will be allocated for talking about cute boys.
50% of my blog will be allocated for being snarky or asslicking about books.
50% of my blog will be allocated for working on math skills.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Review of BUMPED, by Megan McCafferty

You know who's awesome? Megan McCafferty is awesome. I've been a fan of her work for some time. I first encountered her writing when I was killing time to meet someone and wandered into a bookstore, picked up the first book that looked interesting, and started reading. That book was Sloppy Firsts. I didn't buy the book that day, but I eventually checked it and its sequel, Second Helpings, out from the library. After devouring both books, I knew I needed to add them to my permanent collection, so to Amazon I went. And pre-ordered the next three books. And bought extra copies for friends, spreading the good word of the McCafferty worldwide. I've probably bought enough Jessica Darling books to make a pretty awesome igloo.

When I got to see McCafferty at a reading last year, she mentioned her new project, her first official young adult book, a wry, sarcastic, dystopian story about a world in which, due to a worldwide infertility epidemic striking adults, teenagers are the only ones who are able to bear children (and are consequently hired for this purpose). She described it at the reading as The Handmaid's Tale meets Heathers. I was already in the midst of infertility treatments back then, so you can imagine I was eager for this book to come out, in the same way that cats like looking at other cats on television.

Several months ago, ARCs (advance reader copies) of this new book, Bumped, began to be distributed. This blog itself was actually started in order to enter a contest to win an ARC of Bumped. I did not win that one or several other contests I entered. However, due to my incessant but nonthreatening (and dare I say, charming?) Twitter-stalking, I gave McCafferty my State of the Uterus address (state: barren), and she, in her kindness, arranged for me to get an ARC of Bumped, which I spent this past weekend devouring.

First, may I say how refreshing it is to read about a world where every single fucking adult is infertile? WE ALL LOSE! [maniacal laughter]

Right. The book. Reviewing. Yes.

Bumped is set in a near-future where a virus has rendered most of the adult population infertile. As a result, teenagers are now the most prized members of society, the only way of continuing the human race (and up for the highest bidder). As the book opens: "I'm sixteen. Pregnant. And the most important person on the planet." I've read in interviews that McCafferty, in the culture of pregnancy pacts, and MTV's constant "Teen Mom" "16 and Pregnant" marathons, and debates over abstinence-only sex education, wanted to imagine under which circumstances teenagers would be encouraged to have sex. Her imagination and wit are evident here in her portrayal of what might happen in a society where teenage fertility is its most valued asset. The culture caters to and glamorizes the young and pregnant. Fertilicious. Pre-pubescent girls carry "My First Curse" purses, equipped for everything a girl might need when she first gets a visit from Cap'n Bloodsnatch. You can even buy a fake belly bump with "tasteful stretch marks" as a stylin' accessory, the way kids in my day used to wear friendship bracelets and banana clips. Drugs are commonly distributed like a school nurse handing out Tylenol in order to make teens lose their inhibitions so they can have procreative sex with strangers, or to prevent a pregnant teen from bonding with her unborn child.

The story is told from the shifting point of views of a pair of identical twins, adopted separately and recently reunited. Melody has grown up in this culture where fertility is a commodity, bought and sold and commercialized. Harmony has grown up in a religious (I picture Amish, as Harmony seems to be on the rumspringa to end all rumspringas) community where they still hold traditional values of marriage and parenthood--you get married young and you keep any babies that God may bless you with. Their paths start out diametrically opposed, but as the story progresses, their lives intertwine and come together like a melody and counterpoint (their names, which I originally found somewhat gimmicky, turn out to be a beautiful metaphor for these sisters' confusing, sometimes faltering relationship), occasionally filled with discord, but striving for resolution, in the same way that a counterpoint cannot help but resolve into unison with its cantus firmus.

My gut reaction was to distance myself as much as possible from Harmony and her Bible-thumping (side note: McCafferty is brilliant with her words, associating bumping [meaning, to have procreative sex, or the very act of getting pregnant for the highest bidder], humping [more of the procreative sex], and thumping [prosthelytizing the Good News] as well as linking pregg, to egg, to renegg) and identify more with Melody, but as the book unfolds, I found my sympathies shifting, then shifting back, then twisting around again. There's a lot of moral ambiguity here, a lot of people just trying to do right by their own codes of conduct, and at the end I don't even know what's right anymore.

Although The Handmaid's Tale is the Atwood book most will associate with this novel due to its similar subject matter, I found myself reminded much more of Alias Grace, and how that narrator struggles to make sense of two very separate parts of her psyche, as she tries to understand what has happened to her (a fantastic read and possibly my favorite Atwood). The power now given to teen girls also made me think of  the Salem Witch Trials--girls, usually the most powerless members of society, suddenly have all the power. In the Witch Trials, these servant girls with no marriage prospects and no escape from their station suddenly had power over life and death, just by accusing members of society of being witches (especially widows, who, of all the women in colonial society, had the most money, agency, and power). The teens in Bumped control the future, the survival of the human race. And, much like the accusing girls in the Salem Witch Trials, they simply are not emotionally ready for having that kind of power. They don't understand what it means, or what they may lose of themselves by buying too fully into the idea that they are the most important members of the society. They fail to see how they may be taken advantage of, exploited. The cutesy terms for procreating--bumping, pregging, being breedy, etc.--these serve only to trivialize the hugeness of giving up the child you've carried in your womb for nine months for simple monetary gain. And it is truly horrific to see just how much the cultural climate as portrayed in the book glorifies sex--not to sell products, but to sell, well, sex, so that even eleven-year-olds are clamoring, even rioting, for celebrity-studs to fertilize them. This is an Orwellian world, its propaganda designed to encourage the barely pubescent to get pregnant as quickly as possible.

For a dystopian novel, however, Bumped is wickedly funny. From the slangy, sharp dialogue to the ridiculous products Madison Avenue (or whoever controls advertising in the near-distant, infertile future) markets to the fertile few, Bumped is filled with moments of welcome levity and clap-your-hand-over-your-mouth-I-can't-believe-she-just-did-that shock (but the funny kind). One moment I'll find myself laughing that a character says that if she had plenty of sex while pregnant, and her offspring didn't end up "cock-knocked in the head"; then I'll be struck breathless from a bit of writing like "His revelation is confirmation of the knowledge I held in my heart all along. Faith is accepting what makes no sense, what we cannot prove, but know down deep in our souls is real"; or choked up from a character's memory of purposely tangling her hair in order to have just a few more moments of her mother's attention.

Bumped will be out on April 26, and I highly, highly recommend that you preorder it right now. It was a hard read for me at times due to the current State of My Uterus (to reiterate: barren), but it's beautifully written, funny, witty, imaginative, and grip-you-by-the-figurative-balls engaging, and I'm already twitching for the sequel like a crack addict wanting some cracktacular cracky crack crack crack.


So go forth and multiply [Megan McCafferty's income].

Thoughts on a Failed IVF

Sorry it's been a while--I sort of forgot the password to this account, because I am that awesome.

So, yes, the short version: IVF happened. It didn't work. I cried a lot.

Longer version: The IVF process was not as bad as I imagined it might be. There was a bit of a learning curve with the injections, but in time I grew to be a pro--like, I could probably go live among the heroin addicts like Jane Goodall now, which is a lifelong dream of mine, if I am correct in my belief that all heroin addicts are as hot as Ewan McGregor in Trainspotting.

The constant monitoring was a bit of a pain, just to have to drive out to the clinic in all kinds of weather, get blood drawn every single appointment, to the point that one day the phlebotomist jabbed the butterfly needle in my vein, and nothing came out. Nothing. I think I may have heard that sad car horn that plays on "The Price Is Right" when you overbid. My follicles grew quite slowly at first, and they had to crank up my dose of Gonal-F to ridiculous amounts. My ovaries were enormous and tender, and I could feel them whenever I took a step. Step, wubba wubba wubba, step, wubba wubba wubba.

Oh, and to make things interesting, in the middle of all the injections and dildocamming, I also came down with a case of shingles. Because nothing says "Christmas spirit" like shingles. So I was taking anti-viral meds at the same time as the various injections, probe up my vag, etc. Good times, truly. We ended up not traveling for the holidays because we had to stick around for appointments. It was strange not seeing family over Christmas, to spend the holiday alone, without a tree, without ceremony. But we told ourselves it would be worth it, if we ended up with a baby (or babies).

After some twelve days of ovary stimming, I finally had follicles in the target range--about seven in range, with a few that might catch up. I was hoping for an even dozen, but I was happy to have at least seven. My lining was a plush 12.2mm. Egg retrieval was fine once I got used to the facility--eight beds in one big room, separated only by curtains. It's like a baby factory in there, a baby factory in Soviet Russia. Walking by the labs where they make the babies, I thought to myself, "I bet this is what it looks like inside Mrs. Duggar."

I'm generally not afraid of medical procedures, so I was fine with the IV, the saline drip, the antibiotics drip. The nurses kept piling warm blankets on me. I heard the spiel about what to expect (when you're ... not expecting) about four times before it was my turn to head into the egg retrieval room. I thought they'd wheel me in there on the gurney I was lying on, but I had to walk. They gave me slipper socks, and I padded toward the room, holding my hospital gown closed at the back, with layers of warm blankets draped around my shoulders like Elvis in Vegas.

I hopped up on the table, which had those under-the-knee stirrup things which I've seen only on television and movies when fertile ladies get to push their babies out. The anesthesiologist came over. I remember thinking he looked a bit like Philip Seymour Hoffman. When I found out I'd be getting Versed and Fentanyl, I did a little dance, because those drugs are flippin' AWESOME. Sadly, I've injured myself enough times that I know what those drugs feel like (which is, again, AWESOME). There was the doctor who would do the retrieval, the anesthesiologist, a nurse, and a scrub, who sat behind a table in the back like a DJ at a turntable in a club. There were so many people in that tiny room, and the lights were so bright that I could almost imagine I was getting abducted by aliens. Didn't the aliens steal all of Scully's eggs?

The anesthesiologist began the drip of sweet, sweet opiate nectar, and I began to feel amazing. One minute I'm thinking, This is the best ever! and the next I'm lying back where I started, in the Soviet Russian holding pen. I kept saying, rather loudly, "HOW DID I GET HERE? I WAS OVER THERE!" But I felt pretty good, groggy. The nurse came by with ginger ale and saltines, and she just opened the saltines packets and scattered them on my lap like she was feeding a toddler or maybe some ducks.

They took out my IV and then made me go pee (you can't leave the clinic before you pee for some reason). Seven eggs, they said, and they sent us home to wait. In two days we would get a phone call letting us know how many eggs fertilized and what time we'd need to come in for three-day transfer.

The phone call came--four out of seven eggs fertilized. We knew they'd put back only up to two embryos no matter what--anything left over would get frozen. They said to wait for a call in the morning to confirm that transfer would still happen (sometimes the eggs stop developing, so there's nothing to transfer).

The next morning, they called me early to say that transfer would indeed happen. Two eggs to transfer--two had stopped developing. We'd get the full report once we got to the clinic. I was a little sad that another two eggs hadn't made it, but at the same time, I had felt strange about having any embryos frozen. If those frozen embryos became babies at some point, what would it be like to know you'd spent the first few years of your life in a deep freeze like Han Solo in Carbonite?

One embryo had nine cells, and the other had six. The nine was "B" grade; the six "C" grade. This wasn't totally encouraging news, but the doctor seemed hopeful about the nine-celled guy. They put the embryos up on the screen so I could see them. I gasped and said, "They're so pretty!" I loved them already, those little blobs of cells. "I hope I can meet you someday," I thought. They printed out a picture of the embies for us to take home.

Transfer did not go well--both embies got stuck in the catheter during transfer, and after they checked under the microscope, they announced we'd have to transfer the embryos again. At this point my bladder was about to explode, Metternich-style, but I held it, praying I wouldn't spray anybody in the face with jets of pee.

Second try worked, so after ten minutes of lying still, I was allowed to leave (mostly to pee--I should have timed it. I was leaking like a coffeemaker for at least a minute). And I was technically pregnant. There were two tiny embryos inside me that had both my and my husband's genetic material. "Hi, babies," I said, patting my belly on the ride home. "Hi. Hi. Hi. I love you. Hi."

We spend the rest of the day quietly. I don't remember if I knit or read books. I probably farted around on the Internet, because lately that seems to be my main activity.

The first week of the two-week wait was good. I was happy, imagining those little guys inside me. I put the printout of the embryos up on the fridge. My husband named them. Every night he'd give me my progesterone-in-oil shot. I'd been wary of letting him jab me in the asscheek with a gigantic needle, but he did amazingly. I felt so close to him, that I could trust him this much.

The second week I began to lose faith. Shouldn't I feel different by now? I didn't feel different. Actually, I know the exact moment that I lost faith. For several days, my boobs had swollen and swollen, most likely a result of the gigantic hCG trigger shot. It's the pregnancy hormone, so it gives you pregnancy syndromes. At one point my boobs hurt so much that I had to wear a sports bra to work. I was hopeful. The next morning, they felt deflated, and that was the moment I thought, This isn't going to work.

I was supposed to go in for my beta test on Friday, twelve days after transfer. On Thursday morning I started spotting. I was told that bleeding was okay as long as it wasn't bright red, clumpy, or as heavy as a regular period. It stopped and started and stopped again, and for the first time that week, I felt hopeful again.

Cruel hope.

The last time I went in for a beta test was with my first IUI. I went to the clinic closest to my workplace. I had my iPod on shuffle, and for some reason, I told myself, the results will be positive as long as no selection from The Medium comes on shuffle. And right then, The Medium came onto my iPod. The test was negative, and part of me blamed the song on the iPod, as if that would have ANYTHING to do with an egg deciding to meet up with a sperm and divide and implant in my uterine lining.

So this time, I decided to go to a different clinic for the blood draw. And to choose the album on my iPod, so as not to leave things to chance. I was still a little hopeful--the spotting hadn't worsened. Maybe we'll have twins, I even thought.

The phone call came, and the nurse made stupid small talk for a few minutes. My heart was in my throat, but a tiny part of me got extra hopeful--surely she wouldn't be shooting the shit if the results were negative, right? But no, it was negative. Nothing. Stop the progesterone shots, she said. You'll get your period. Then call the office. You have to skip a cycle to give your ovaries a break, and you have to redo all your diagnostic tests.

In a way, I wasn't surprised. Why should this have worked? I quickly made an appointment to see my RE the next week. And then I became so, so sad that I had to leave work and head to bed and sob.

"Goodbye, babies," I said out loud from under the covers, and I sobbed some more.

When I could manage, I got out of bed, carefully took the printout of the embryos off the fridge, and put them in the folder from the IVF clinic.

But I'd done it. I'd survived failing an IVF. It was bad, but it was bearable. It was like a switch flipped in my head: one minute I was a Girl Who Might Be Pregnant. And then the next, I was That Infertile Girl again. I knew how to be That Infertile Girl. That part was easy. It was hard when I had hope, but having no hope, well, we just trudge on.

The one thought that came to me was the last line of Tom Perrotta's Little Children:

She was here because ... she believed, for a few brief, intensely sweet moments, that she was something special, one of the lucky ones, a character in a love story with a happy ending.

I wasn't one of the lucky ones, and it had been sweet to believe that I might be. But now I was just me. Just Infertile Girl.

When I met with my doctor the next week, he said that the cycle had actually gone very well, as far as my response to drugs and my hormone levels. But, he said. But. My oocytes were of poor quality. There were impurities in the cytoplasm. He said I had the eggs of a much older woman, and that there was nothing you could do to improve egg quality--your eggs were your eggs. I read what happens with poor-quality eggs. Sometimes there's a problem with the mitochondria--they're faulty, or there aren't enough of them. So maybe the egg fertilizes, maybe it begins to implant, but then the mitochondria just give up. The egg has no energy to divide anymore, and it dies. My poor, tired eggs. My poor little embryos.

People ask me if I'll do it again. Yes. Yes. Yes. I will keep going through treatments as long as my insurance will pay for them. I will inject my legs and asscheeks with hormones, fill up my sharps container, and just keep at it until they give up, or until the fund runs dry. And I learned that the clinic you go to get your blood draw and the contents of your iPod and the socks that you wear (even if they say they are "Lucky Irish Socks"), that none of these things change the outcome of what's happening inside your body. It's so easy to become superstitious, to do strange rituals in hopes that the right combination of food and poses and offerings will somehow make it work this time. But the fact is, there's nothing we can do. And you just have to let go, and let yourself drift in the uncertainty. Don't fight the current. Don't fight. Just coast, and hope you don't drown.