Sunday, 2 March 2014

My Imaginary Speech at the (in)Fertility Oscars

I look forward to watching the 86th Academy Awards later today, Sunday, March 4th ! I'm a big fan of films and a bigger fan of award speeches.

If there is a “Keeping your Sanity despite the Crazy Journey in Infertility” Award, I may have a tiny shot of winning a trophy. (There will be thousands of other men and women nominees, too.) 

Let’s just imagine that there is such an award. Now imagine that I got that accolade (ehem, ehem).

This will be my speech:

Most of the narrative we hear or read about infertility focuses on couples with infertility issues. This is understandable. But today I’d like to center the spotlight on the men and women who help couples fulfill their dreams of having a child. In particular, I thank everyone – the doctors, nurses and clinic staff at our fertility clinic.

To Dr. Beth Taylor, fertility doctor extraordinaire. It’s not often that you get the right combination of a doctor who is an expert in her field and also have the understanding of the roller-coaster ride infertile couples experience. Her intelligence, curiosity and analytical skills makes me think that she is some kind of a CSI – albeit not with crime scenes but with infertility issues.

Dr. Taylor is better than all the CSIs put together though. They’re all fictional characters and she’s not. She’s a superb scientist, yes. She also has the sensitivity of an artist. Her empathy and compassion is a solace, especially in days when hope seemed out of reach.  I can go on with my ode to Dr. Taylor ad infinitum. 

We also had the opportunity to work with Dr. Nakhuda and Dr. Hitkari. Both doctors are very knowledgeable and answered questions clearly, patiently and cheerfully.

To the many wonderful nurses of the clinic whose ability, skill and dedication are remarkable. Special mention goes to Paula, sunshine personified. I first met Paula in the clinic’s support group and was struck with her talent in explaining medical concepts in a way that is accessible to many. What I most appreciate most about Paula is her warm and caring ways. Her positive attitude is an inspiration.

Mikki is also another nurse who made a difference. Some medications taken during an IVF cycle can have different side-effects on different people. One medication was making me really depressed. I called the nurses’ line of the clinic. I talked to Mikki who gave essential support. She stayed on the line until both of us felt confident that I was safe and out of harm’s way.

Other nurses, like Biddy, Nicola, Anna and Wendy (who has a great sense of humor!), have all been helpful and kind. One of the hardest jobs nurses do, I think, is informing fertility patients of a negative pregnancy test. All those who have had this difficult job of delivering unfortunate news to me have done so with exceptional sensitivity and compassion. Being in the front line, every committed nurse is an asset to a fertility clinic.

To all the clinic staff: the men and women of the laboratory, the administrative team, and the team at the front-desk including those who answer phone inquiries. All of them have shown exceptional competence in their own area. I've also felt that they have a real understanding of the intense emotional upheaval that usually accompanies fertility treatments. 

Tracy at the front desk is always friendly and helpful. I suspect she has a special ability to assess (in seconds!) the demeanor of people who come in to the clinic. From the nervous first-timer to the lost-a-couple-of-times-but-still-hopeful “regular” patients like my husband and I.

Going through infertility without the support and company of the dedicated men and women of our fertility clinic would have been very difficult, if not impossible. Imagine Frodo Baggins, bearer of the One Ring, trekking to Mount Doom, without the help of Samwise, Merry, Pippin, Aragorn, Gandalf, Boromir, Legolas, Gimli and the other Middle-Earth folks. How could Frodo have survived the orcs, goblins and the evil Lord, Sauron, just by himself? He wouldn’t have.

This is not Mount Doom but Mount Jefferson in Oregon.
Photo Credit: R.H.

I think the “trophy” at the (in)Fertility Oscar’s isn’t having a child. Of course, every infertile couple (or single without a partner) who wishes for a child, wants to eventually have a child. But the trophy isn’t really the child.

It is continuing to love yourself and your partner despite the disappointments. It’s in the knowledge that, although the child you’re hoping for will add to the joy in your life, not having a child does not necessarily diminish your zest for life. It is in not succumbing to bitterness and anger. 

It’s in the deep conviction that whether you’ll eventually be gifted with a child or decide to live child-free, you’ll remain the beautiful person that you are.

The men and women at Olive Fertility Centre have helped me keep my sanity so that I won’t lose sight of who I really am. A complete, loving and caring woman. With or without a child.        

Backstage at the (in)Fertility Oscars

My speech "on stage" has turned out to be long-ish. If this was really the Academy Awards, the orchestra would start playing the music and the usherettes or ushers of the show would half-escort, half-drag me to exit the stage.

But I still have some more people to thank. Good thing the camera will continue rolling backstage to give the awardees the chance to thank other people they have missed on stage. Better thing is that this isn’t really the Oscars and I can continue my speech.    

I thank my husband who has been my solid and stable partner in this journey. From being present in every meeting with the doctors to helping me with my injections. From reading many articles and journals about fertility-related studies to keeping my hopes up and embracing me when words became insufficient. He was there and I know he will continue to be there. This part of our life has brought us closer to each other. 

Photo credit: Wendy D. 

When most girls dreamed of meeting the men of their dreams, marrying, raising children in a nice big house, I dreamed of becoming a famous actress, a missionary, and world explorer. I had hoped of finding my special someone but never imagined I would actually find that person. One who accepts me for who I am – opinionated and silly, fantastic and fabulous. One who is different enough to make things interesting but who shares my values and priorities in life.

I thank Alanna and Ty for their emotional support and encouragement. They are always interested in hearing updates about our fertility treatments. They share disappointments and our joys. 

I thank Neil and all my dear friends – in Canada and in the Philippines, who may not always be up to date with every step of the journey but whose thoughts and prayers are important to me. You know who you are.

They say it takes a village to raise a child. I say, it also takes a village to take care of each other.   

Saturday, 22 February 2014

A New Chapter Begins

Flashback: October 29th, 2013. I had recently finished another IVF cycle. Our third.

My husband, let’s call him RH, and I were sitting in the office of Dr. Taylor, our fertility doctor. It was a sunny but cool day. It was warm inside Dr. Taylor’s office, though. Too warm. I hadn’t taken my winter jacket off, though I opened the front zipper. The sun was streaming through the glass wall. The warmth reminded me of siesta time when I was a little girl in the Philippines. The warmth felt very familiar and so was the disappointment.

Two weeks before our visit with Dr. Taylor, the verdict was in. The pregnancy test was negative. Again. I should say this was not a surprise. Based on our experience in the first and second IVF cycles, my ovaries were not responding well. A higher dosage was prescribed in the third IVF cycle but the number of ova or egg cells was still quite measly. This confirmed my suspicion that I have very low ovarian reserve. It’s not rocket science really. I was 40 then and I just turned 41 January of this year. What did I expect?

RH and I have always liked Dr. Taylor. An intelligent woman with a gift in making complex concepts easy to understand, she has always been honest and open with us. Whenever we asked a question that she didn’t know the answer to, she told us. Like the other doctors, nurses, and staff in that fertility clinic, Dr. Taylor has shown us great compassion and empathy throughout our whole journey. Most of all she has always been very patient with us. My husband and I are probably some of the geekiest patients Dr. Taylor has ever encountered. We would ask her about the veracity of the information we have researched on our own. We sought her opinion and respected her insights. I think that she might have enjoyed our geekiness a little! She wrote a blog (aptly entitled "Stats 101") that included RH’s probability computation.

Dr. Taylor’s recommendation was for us to seriously consider an egg donor program. Essentially, this means using another woman’s (a younger woman’s) eggs. Using RH’s sperm, an embryo will be later transferred to my uterus. In some circumstances, a family member or a close friend could potentially donate eggs to an infertile woman. R and I don’t know anyone who could do that for us. I mean, I have friends and relatives in the Philippines who would probably offer us their ova. Or at least, consider it. But they are on the other side of the Pacific Ocean. It’s just not logistically possible. Since buying and selling ova is not allowed in Canada, our best option was to go to a fertility clinic in Seattle.

As Dr. Taylor was handing us the brochures of possible clinics in Seattle, I burst into tears! RH held my left hand and squeezed it tight.

“It’s okay,” he assured me. “We’ll try again, Sweetie,” 

“I know,” I replied while wiping my nose. “That’s not why I’m crying.”  

Dr. Taylor and RH looked at me kindly but with perplexed looks on their faces. They probably thought I was devastated by the failure of yet another IVF cycle. I had accepted that fact. I was ready to move on to the next chapter. I was crying because I was going to miss the people at the clinic!

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Humor and Infertility

In infertility, negative feelings is often part of the territory. Humor makes difficult feelings easier to deal with. In an older post, I wrote about some things Filipinos say to their Fertility-challenged friends and family to express my anger in a safe way. I don't support violence, if I can help it. ;)

Many well-meaning friends and family members, in an effort to make me feel better, say hurtful and insensitive things that reflect their lack of awareness of infertility. The worse thing is that I was starting to get really angry at myself for not correcting these misconceptions and for not speaking up. I decided to write the post I mentioned above to prepare and empower myself to deal with situations like these.

What started out as an expression of anger turned out to be an enjoyable exercise! I crafted responses that were in turn tongue in cheek, bitchy, and outright silly.

Yesterday, I re-discovered this funny video (below) by fenneladasgupta. I first saw this about a year ago and I fell on my chair laughing!

Nothing beats humor. Enjoy!

Full disclosure: I have to say that before I experienced infertility, I probably said (or at least thought) some of these remarks and assumptions.

Saturday, 7 September 2013


Saturday, August 31st. I started my needlework. I don’t mean the embroidery, quilting, or knitting sort of needlework. I mean the kind required in IVF treatment. I’m not a big fan of injections. When I was a little girl, many grown-ups wheedled (okay, threatened) their children into behaving by saying that if they didn’t they would be taken to the doctor for an injection. I guess this is the Filipino version of the boogeyman. I don’t recall my own parents using this tactic on me or my brother but somehow the sight of other children crying during vaccination time instilled the long-lasting fear of injections in me.

About the same time I started my needlework, I wrote to my friends back home how I’ve been quite preoccupied partly because of my injections. For the first five days, it was one injection in the morning and two at night. (Day 5, there were four!) The remaining six days, it’s two in the morning and one at night. Truth be told, I was probably unconsciously fishing for sympathy and some “cheerleading.” I only realize this after their encouraging and very supportive responses. Several “You can do it!” and a “We admire your courage!” came back.

Hhhmmm. Courage. I never thought of myself as particularly being courageous in going through IVF treatment. I basked in all this positive attention but didn’t make any reply immediately.  I wanted to reflect a little bit more about this courage thing. I thought, well, the needles are actually quite small and it’s not that bad really. Early morning of the fifth day of injections, my husband and I drove to the lab. Then I thought “okay yeah. Maybe it takes a little bit of courage.” Especially for a needle non-fan and total pain wimp like me. After all, it’s not just the 3 times daily injections I have to do. There are the needles needed to take the blood test on the fifth day of injections and every two days after that. Then there’s the egg retrieval two days after the final injections . I won’t go into the details of this process for fear of scaring the wits out of some of my friends. (The curious ones can google it.) Suffice it to say that in “harvesting” the ova a needle is used to aspirate the follicles in both ovaries. Before I went through my first IVF attempt in December last year, reading the description of this process totally freaked me out. I mean, my ovaries may not be fertile but my imagination is! The actual procedure, as I experienced it months ago, wasn’t really that bad though. In fact, whatever drugs I got (as sedatives or anesthesia) made me feel relaxed. I just felt so gooood that it seemed like I have love for for all the citizens of the Earth and maybe some left over for citizens in other planets. So I’m hoping it will be a similar experience next week.   

My brother refers to my IVF injections with the Tagalog word “turok” (pronounced TWO-rook) which essentially means to pierce with a needle. In Cebuano, which is our first language, “turok” (pronounced two-RUK, emphasis on the second syllable) means to grow, sprout or develop. Being the word geek that I am, the different meanings of these almost-identical words is not lost on me.

Perhaps JD was right. I have courage. Even if it’s just a little bit. But mostly, I think I am strong in my resolve to go through the “turok” of the needles so that life can “turok” and grow successfully in my womb. 

My doctor once said that IVF is not just science. It’s also an art. 

Yup. Like embroidery, quilting, knitting and other forms of needlework.

NOTE: And... just because I’m a total geek. I will leave this footnote. Tagalog and Cebuano are among two of over a hundred of languages of the Philippines.

Monday, 19 August 2013

My Nanay

(This piece was written to remember my mother, Rufina, on what would have been her 77th birthday.)

Mom, Morsa, Mutter, Ahm, Maman, Mama. Children around the world call their mothers by a variety of names. I called mine Nanay. I like the word “nanay.” How it sounds, how the word rolls off my tongue easily, how comforting it sounds. Growing up in Cebu, “mama” was more common among my peers. I proudly called my mother “nanay.” Because it was not as common as “mama,” I have always felt it was unique. As unique as my mother.

Nanay grew up in a mountain village in the southwestern part of our island, Cebu, in the Philippines. Her parents were farmers who worked hard to feed their eleven children. Nanay was quick, intelligent, and determined. She was class valedictorian when she completed her elementary education. Nanay had a dream. She wanted to go to high school and then study to become a nurse. But at that time, women did not go to high school or university. In those days, women got married, raised children, and took care of their husbands. Of what possible use would more education be?

In our family, Nanay’s kindness and generosity were well-known. During family gatherings, my aunts and uncles would comment on how Nanay would give the shirt off her back if you need it. Or how, when she had nothing more to give, she would borrow from one to give to the other. This last comment said with a tone of disdain by some; but, often it was said in admiration for her altruism.

It was this selflessness that both baffled and annoyed me especially as a teen-ager. At that time, I was starting to learn about individuality. I was critical of Nanay’s self-sacrifice even when it was for my benefit. I remember telling her, not too kindly, that a woman is first her own person before being a wife and mother. Had she not heard of women’s liberation? Had she not heard of feminism? Why was she allowing herself to be oppressed? Could she not free herself from the shackles of our patriarchal society? These were haughty and arrogant words I said to my mother. Hurting words that I regret now.  

I never really understood Nanay’s selflessness. Though I have to say that I may have had a little glimpse of it a few months ago when it was clear that my husband and I would have to go through the more complex and involved fertility treatment that is IVF. Needles and physical pain have never been my cup of tea. One time, as I was sitting on the skytrain, on the way home from the fertility clinic, I was struck with a thought. I realized that I was now willing to go through all the unpleasant, painful, difficult, intrusive processes for a chance to have a child. Could this potentially be a budding maternal selflessness?  

Just as Nanay was known for her intelligence, determination, her kindness and generosity, her beauty was legendary. When, as an adult, I had the chance to meet people who knew my mother in her youth, they would invariably say how beautiful she was. They would mention how, for five consecutive years, Nanay played Mary during the Sugat or the annual Easter Sunday pageant. Being the mother of Jesus is a plum role reserved only for women who not only exude beauty but embody integrity.

One time, when I was a school girl, I invited a couple of classmates over to my house. Our small living room was filled with framed photos. My friends saw a photo of a young beautiful woman. Who is that very beautiful woman, one asked. My Nanay, I answered.  Then she said: “Liwat di-ay ka sa imong Tatay.” (You must take after your father.) I was speechless for a second but retorted with mock anger: “Hey, do you still want to be my friend or not?” We had a good laugh after. Though her remark stung a little bit, I know what she said was true.

I know I’m not as physically beautiful as Nanay was. I know I will never be as generous of spirit and kind as she was. Yes, I still don’t fully grasp what it means to be totally and unabashedly selfless. But amidst all these challenges of wanting to have a child, I have had a glimpse of Nanay’s selflessness. And maybe for now, that is enough for me.    

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Happy Un-mother’s Day!

Today is Mother’s Day. 

I think that aside from Christmas, Mother’s Day is the other holiday when it can be difficult for women with fertility issues. It’s best to avoid reading your former high school classmates’ Facebook status updates about their children giving them Mother’s Day cards, flowers or breakfast in bed. It almost seemed like there is a competition for the “aaawww, how sweet” factor. It started getting depressing. For me, yes. Not to them, of course.

I thought it best to be kick-ass about the situation. SO I wrote this as my status update:

I think that as a society we should seriously reconsider our definition of motherhood to include all women who have nurtured us and cared for us. They may not have their own children but they have conceived many ideas and thoughts that made a difference in our lives. They have given birth to beautiful works of art. Their kindness and spirit gave birth to our new and renewed selves. So as I think of my own Nanay (mother), I also think of the many important and childless women in my life, Aunt Anne, Aunt Flor, my cousin Myrna, my former teachers – Ms. Ba-ad, Ms. Abellon, Ms. Esmero, the nuns in my school – Sr. Myrna, Sr. Julia, Sr. Godfreda. I say to you: Happy Mother's Day! You have contributed to the woman I am today.    

Friends and former students sent greetings to me which was reassuring. Just as I was preparing to write this journal, I got a heartwarming message from my 16-year old stepdaughter. 
Just wanted to say happy Mother's Day!  You truly are an inspirational person, with your free spirit, thoughtfulness, warmness and creativity! You don't have to give birth to someone to be a mother for sure because you give me so much guidance and more! And you don't have to fit the role of a stereotypical mother either! Just keep being you and that's enough for me. 
Well. That wasn’t too bad for my un-Mother’s Day.