Stress-You Ugly Beast

Stress… you’ve shown your ugly face again and again; to be honest I am quite sick of you. I am trying to find a way to beat it, to not feel like every breath is a struggle.  To not feel like my heart is going to explode. My blood pressure is higher with every doctors appointment. I cannot stand the look I get, I do not have a blood pressue issue, I have anxiety that is trying to destroy me and everytime I have to explain. I would love to not feel like my stomach is going to eventually just eat itself and everything I do eat just makes me feel sick.  To not feel this way would be my greatest blessing right now. I have to find a way to win here.  The only calming source I have found is spa music. Even that is not always doing the trick.  I am trying and I am fighting, I just feel so lost.
I have so many positives in my life.  It is so frustrating to feel this way when there are so many things to look forward to!
It’s going to be okay, today is just not my day. We all have them, I just need to find my footing here. Feel free to share what works for you!

You Are Not Alone: Hope is everywhere

National Infertility Awareness Week 2015

National Infertility Awareness Week 2015

It’s 8:00 am.  You are walking through long, narrow, never ending hallways to the doctor’s appointment.  People are walking by and saying good morning, but you do not notice them.  This appointment has been thought about for years now and it is finally here.  That moment where you know your life is going to change the minute you sit down in the exam room, is finally here.

Your fiance checks in with the receptionist, but you just take a seat.  You wait and inside you feel like you are dying; you cannot breath.  Every breath, you are fighting to take.  Do you know that feeling you get when you are walking down the steps and you miss one?  Your stomach lurches and it takes a second for it go away.  This time that startled, scary feeling does not go away.   You sit… and you wait.  You wonder if the others in the waiting room are feeling the same thing. Maybe they are here for a completely different reason but probably not.  As sad as it is, it is comforting to know you are not alone, that others share your journey.  You pretend that they know what you are going through and share your pain .  Some people are smiling; others have their heads buried in their phones.  Some are talking to their significant other. You try to distract both of you by looking at funny jokes on Pinterest.  Anything you can think of to take away the fear, you try, if just for a moment.  It does not work, you know you cannot fool your brain to feel safe, but you try.  You cannot get rid of that feeling… that terrible falling down the steps feeling.   Finally, they call you both back to the exam room.  You find it hard to believe, but your nerves are rattled even more now.

You cannot escape this moment.  You can not ignore it.  The moment is here and you must face it.

As the nurse takes you to the exam room, you see the doctor is sitting in the room waiting for you both.  This isn’t typical and you know here goes another fall down the stairs.  The first words out of his mouth are, “So how are you feeling?” with a look you recognize as disappointment on his face. You sink deeper into your chair.   You slipped on the never ending staircase again, but this time it feels more like you are not going to make it; you are just going to keep falling.  Your fiance tries to save you by responding that you’re both feeling pretty good.  But the doctor seems surprised.  Why?

The first blow.  Testosterone levels are not where they need to be and they keep getting lower.

The second blow… that family you long for, the one you’ve been dreaming about since you first started playing with baby dolls, is going to be difficult to have.

Low testosterone, low sperm count…  Not just the low sperm count where you have 20,000 sperm (normal is 50 thousand).  The low sperm count where you may have a few hundred but most of them are abnormal.  The type where ICSI is your only option.

Let’s step back about 2.5 years before this appointment.  My fiance, Kevin, was deployed in Afghanistan.  On June 24, 2012, Kevin stepped on an IED.  He was thrown face down into the mud.  When he was rolled over, he knew it was not good.  His right leg was missing below the knee. His left leg was heavily damaged.  Kevin’s pinky was gone and his wrist was severely injured.   And then there was the injury that every man in the military fears, blood in his lap.  Kevin’s one testicle was severely damaged in the blast and had to be removed. His life would never be the same.

Kevin was on testosterone patches for 2.5 years.  This medication works just like birth control for women.  It makes them not produce sperm.  He stopped the medication in the fall of 2014 so we could start testing and figure out our situation.  Test results are consistently saying that IVF/ICSI will be our only way to have children.  I want so badly to look at my children and see my husband in them, his smile, his laugh, and his love for life.

We will be choosing when we become pregnant.  The surprise is gone.  The cute t-shirts, the surprise sonogram picture in a picture frame that says Grandma/Grandpa, might still happen, but the surprise factor is gone.  I am saddened by this the most.  I have always dreamed of the ways I would tell my parents that they are going to be Grandparents.  Now, I know I will not be able to go through this process without their support.  They will know when it happens and we will not get that priceless moment when we tell our parents.   That somewhat exciting and somewhat terrifying moment when you are wondering if you are pregnant or not will be different for us.  A doctor will tell us; we won’t get to find out the happy or heartbreaking news in the comfort of our home.

I have an amazing support system in my family and friends.  They will be there for me during this process.  However, it is still a lonely process.  They do not know what it will be like.  They can give me some advice but it is not from experience.  Sometimes you just want to know you are going to survive it and when you see someone else survive, you have hope.  Hope is what I will cling to!

One out of eight couples experience infertility issues.  We are 1 out of 8, us, the people you grew up with, the people you used to go out to the bar with, the son, the teacher, the soldier, the mid-twenty year old, the friend, the sister, the neighbor, the daughter, the brother… it is us. We are 1 in 8. We are not some distance person that you may never meet, we are all around you, we may be you.

Kevin and I decided to be open about our journey with infertility so that others do not have to feel alone.  Our infertility is a result of a war injury. We started a support page for families who are impacted by war related infertility (join if this is you, Families Impacted by War Related Infertility).  Currently, the VA and Tricare, for retired veterans, will not cover the cost of IVF, even if it is the result of war related injury.  There are thousands of couples in the same situations as us.  We have already had people post on our Facebook support page that they had no idea that other people were dealing with this.  They thought they were alone and that breaks my heart.  No one should ever feel alone, especially when thousands of people are going through the exact same thing.  I know it is embarrassing and feels very personal.  But, the more we share our heartbreaking stories, the more comfortable people will be talking about it themselves.  The more that people talk about it, the more interested doctors, lawyers, politicians and the public become interested in helping and figuring out why this is happening to so many people.

Kevin and I are just starting our journey with IVF.  We have tests to complete before we do the actual embryo transfer.  This week, I have the mock trial embryo transfer.  It is going to be a long and painful process, but we are in this together.  We have hope, we will survive, just as the thousands of other couples do.

Please do not be embarrassed or ashamed if you are dealing with infertility.  Reach out to your family, friends, online communities, support groups, etc.  As scared as I was to first share our story fearing people would judge us, I am so incredibly thankful I did share.  I started thinking about it like this; I should not feel embarrassed or ashamed, the only people who should would be those who judge someone in this situation.  Once you share your story, you hold your head high, because little do you know, you will impact someone; you will make a difference.  I know that it has helped me to read others story, whether they are sad or happy, because either way it helps me relate and know that I will get through this.

You do not have to be alone, there is hope and there is support.  Let’s get through this journey together!  We are 1 out of 8 amazing couples, with incredible strength and courage, who will do anything to make their dreams come true!

Please feel free to share this post and help spread the word!

If you would like to find more information about National Infertility Awareness Week please check out these links from RESOLVE:

http://www.resolve.org/about-infertility/what-is-infertility/  (Basic understanding of the disease of infertility.)

http://www.resolve.org/national-infertility-awareness-week/about.html (About NIAW)

IVF, ICSI, HSG, RE what?!?

Tonight I decided to sit down and look at some information for IVF.  I’m desperately trying to learn all the acronyms and information so that I am not clueless. So far… I am clueless. I do actually know what the four in the subject line mean so I guess that is a start!
I have the mock embryo transfer this coming week. It is simple and easy from what I have heard, but I am still nervous.  Thankfully, Kevin is able to go with me to distract me some.  Soon I will have the HSG (Hysterosalpingogram) test (they will light me up with dye and look for any potential issues).  I am not looking forward to that test!  The good news we have is that they will freeze some of Kevin’s sperm.  This way we will have something to fall back on if something goes wrong in the fall.
I am glad that they are being proactive with everything.  We are getting all of these test out of the way so when we are ready, we are actually ready.  This is a uncanny mix of emotions.  I think we have figured out a roughly estimated time frame for when we want to do the transfer (not sharing the date so we can have some sort of surprise down the road).  It is exciting to think that this time next year we may be in a completely different situation.  It is also scary because nothing is ever guaranteed. We are just going to keep trucking through this and maybe make myself an infertility dictionary in the meantime!  I just hope we can get a picture of when they do the ICSI so we can put it in our children’s baby books.  How amazing would that be to have the very picture of when you started?  Just a clump of cells that look like nothing to the eye.  Maybe that is weird… At least if my kids hate it, I can use it as blackmail in the future?

As scared as I am about this process, I am completely amazed by it too!  How cool would it be to have a job where you literally start life?  I am envious…  but I do not like college that much!

I know a lot of my family and friends read my blog.  I put the definitions of all the weirdo terms so it can help you understand what I am talking about, plus it helps me keep it in my head.

IVF – In Vitro-fertilization – The eggs are taken out and placed into a dish with the sperm, where they do their own thing.

ICSI – Intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection – the eggs are injected with a sperm.  This is done when there is not enough normal sperm and what we will be doing.

HSG – Hysterosalpingogram – the test where they put dye into you so they can x-ray and look at your reproductive organs.  They are looking for blockages and any other potential problems.

RE – Reproductive Endocrinologist – fertility doctor

Emotions are high, hopes are higher!

Yesterday was our first appointment with Shady Grove Fertility.   I spent hours researching infertility and some options we may or may not have.  I thought that would help me prepare for everything the doctor was going to say.  It didn’t.  I wasn’t prepared.  I felt like a deer in headlights.  I have no idea what all of the acronyms they throw out mean and I found myself frustrated.  We had to fill out a ton of paper work after the appointment.  It was like purchasing a house… with much tougher questions.  First, we had to decide if we would want our remaining embryos frozen after our first transfer.  Sure…  I think.

Then, there was this question…

“What do you want us to do with you embryos if something happens to two both of you?”

WHAT? I didn’t prepare for that question. It actually never crossed my mind that it would even be asked.   We will have frozen embryos just waiting for us to use them.  If one of us passes away, the embryos’ still belong to the living person.   This just makes me feel weird; I am making plans for my children before they are even conceived.  I don’t know how I feel about it.  I am trying to understand that it is okay to do this.  I am thanking God for giving us such brilliant people who will make it possible for us to have a family.

Then the question, “if you do not want them anymore can we do research on them or if they die what do you want us to do them the remaining tissue?”  Um… okay, it will help other people out right?

Who has to make decisions like this?  Why do we have to?  Why can’t we be like other people who can get pregnant naturally? If he wasn’t injured, this wouldn’t have been an issue.  I hate these questions and I feel bad for feeling them but… I feel them.  Kevin does not deserve to feel like this is his fault, because it is not his fault in the least bit.  I’m very much in love with him and I wouldn’t change a thing.  I know he feels guilty sometimes, but he shouldn’t.  If all of these things didn’t happen, I’m not sure that we would have been brought together.  So I will take the good, the bad, and the ugly because I found true honest love.

Then I think about all the exciting parts of the beginning of a pregnancy and it makes me a little bit sad.  Announcing to your husband that you are pregnant and the excited look on his face, what beats that (besides obviously his face when our child is brought into this world…man I cannot wait for that moment)?  Telling your parents that they are going to be Grandparents, telling your siblings they will be Aunts and Uncles, has to be an amazing feeling.  We won’t get that, people will know we are trying to get pregnant because I will be giving myself shots and going to never-ending doctor’s appointments.  It doesn’t seem like something that will be easy to hide from everyone.  There will be no surprise.   I feel like during the two-week wait I am going to be stared at day after day, everyone will be waiting to see if it worked.  Then we will sit in a doctor’s office and they will tell us if it did work.  If it didn’t work, what do I say? What do I do?  If it did work, it would change everything for us.  More than likely, it will work and all will go well.  I’m trying to stay out of the world of “what ifs”, that world is terrifying and a waste of my time, but sometimes we all visit that evil world.

I know this will get easier to understand and deal with over time.  I’m so thankful that we decided to look into this now; so we have plenty of time to get comfortable and knowledgeable before the actual IVF procedure starts.  It is just hard right now.  Sitting in the doctor’s appointment, hearing things I did not understand, and thinking how I am going to get all of this straight is very overwhelming.  I’ll be okay, we will be okay, and our future children will be okay; I just need to work through the confusion.

I’m excited to start thinking about the real possibility of Kevin and I having a family.  I know he will make an amazing Dad.  I cannot wait to look at them and hopefully see his smile, eyes, and overall love for life in them.  I don’t mean to sound “woe is me” about this subject, nor do I want pity.  I know thousands of people go through this all of the time.  Just right now, in this moment, I am tired, confused, frustrated, excited, and scared.  Most of all, I am thankful, so incredibly thankful, for doctors, nurses, science, and God for giving us the opportunity to raise a family of our own.  Kevin and I are strong, we fought through everything that was supposed to bring us down.  I know we will get through this too.  I just cannot wait for the day when I can spill off all the information about this process without being confused or mixing up terms, or trying to figure out when I am supposed to take what test and where.  It is a whole new world to us, I’m embracing it with open arms, and with a side of anxiety.

Every season brings new beginnings and new life.

Every season brings new beginnings and new life.

The Next Step – War Related Infertility vs. Us

We started a support group on Facebook for families who are going through similar situations.  It is called Families Impacted by War Related Infertility.  We started the page that way we could all share what we know and experience to make it a little easier on others! This page is just for families in this situation, so they can feel safe to share their stories.

Recently, the VA called and wanted to set up a consult to discuss infertility.  We got the call the same day Kevin met with a Congressman, strange.  We have no idea what it is really about.  The law states that the VA does not pay for IVF, so we are not too optimistic with the VA covering it.  It may just be they want to look at his hormone levels. We already know they are very low, not sure how he has functioned this long like this but who knows… We will of course, update people once we know more about the VA’s appointment.

Tomorrow we have a consult with Shady Grove.  They are supposed to be one of the best in the country.   I cannot wait to hear what they have to say.  It feels strange to be excited about having an appointment with an RE doctor.  But, it means we are going somewhere, we have options, we have hope, we have a chance.  That is pretty exciting!  At the same time I am nervous, hormone levels are not where they need to be.  His levels were drastically low the last time we went to the doctor.  The doctor felt that he should have already been feeling bad, but he wasn’t.  Now, several months later, we are facing it or so it seems.  The medicine they give men for hormones kills off sperm.  Typically it will come back after the medicine is stopped, but what if it doesn’t?   Then what? I am terrified that our clock is ticking to have our own children.

I research this topic constantly; it is almost like my second job at this point.  It is so important to me, having a family with Kevin means everything.  I feel like the more educated I am about this process, the higher our chances will be to finding the right path for us.  As a society, we are quiet and secretive about these issues.  I do not have a problem talking about these personal issues to the world; I can be someone else’s voice if they need me to.  These men and women fighting for our country; they should never wonder how they will be able to achieve their dreams of having a family.  We are still being told that since Kevin is retired, IVF treatments will not be covered no matter the reason.  I’ve found opportunities to discuss this issue with others in similar situations; I think together we can get this changed.

I just cannot wait to have answers to all the thousands of questions in my head!  I’m glad that we started this journey before we got married because we will have a solid plan by August when we are ready to start our family.  We are SO ready for this (so are our families!).

If you know anyone in the same or similar situation, please have them like the Facebook page!  Getting the word out will definitely help! It also just helps to have support.  I haven’t started fertility treatments, I haven’t had my heart-broken after treatment, I do not know what it is like yet, nor will I pretend to.  I do know what it is like to sit in a waiting room, feeling like I am literally going to die while waiting for test results, I do know what it is like to be terrified that you will not get our family easily, I do know what it is like to worry and cry over your future family and wonder if it will in fact exist one day.  That is what I know so far in this journey.  One day soon, I will know more and I know the support would help me.  Sometimes, just having someone in the same situation to talk to is all a person needs. I hate for anyone to ever feel alone!  Some people have already mentioned on the support page that they had no idea other people were going through similar things.  It shouldn’t be that way; no one should ever have to feel alone, especially because they are not.  This is a very personal and private issue for many, for me, it is the opportunity to bring people together and support others in similar situations.

With every turbulent storm, comes peace.

With every turbulent storm, comes peace.

He won! Finding strength in unimaginable places

Do you ever just look at a person and wonder, how do they feel?  How does what I just said affect them? How does an event affect them? Is it the same way I feel or am affected? Sometimes I feel so involved in my own emotions, it is almost overwhelming to comprehend what someone else might be feeling.  I often look at my fiancée and I  wonder, how does he feel?  He had a bomb go off right on him… how does that make him feel?  Kevin was blown up.  He was walking and then all of a sudden he wasn’t.  After the IED went off, he looked at himself and saw flesh, blood, and bones sticking out everywhere.  He knew his leg had been blown off.  HOW DOES SOMEONE DEAL WITH THAT?  It baffles me honestly.  How did he decide to keep moving forward after all of this?

After the IED was blown and medic was ready to move him, he was carried by his fellow soldiers to the helicopter to be lifted out.  While in the helicopter they made him keep talking… we know why they wanted him to keep talking and I’m sure he knew why too.  Think about that… laying in a helicopter and having people working on you and making you talk to them so you stay alive.  Can you imagine this?  I can’t.  I can replay what I have seen in movies or on TV.  Those are just actors, they play the part well but they do not know what it is really like.  It makes my mind go crazy thinking that what I’ve seen in movies or the news happened to someone I love. I cannot put myself in his shoes, I cannot understand what it was like for him.   All I know is that somehow he found strength in the deepest and darkest places.

He never quit.  He fought through it all.  He had external fixators putting several pins in one side of his leg and out the other, twice!  It was disgusting looking, but he dealt with it.  Somehow he walked on it.  It was just another bump in the road for him. At one point, his hand was literally sewn on this hip to give it a better blood flow and keep it alive.  Just another bump.  He had around 30 surgeries, and yet again every surgery was just another bump in the road.  He never lost hope, he never gave in;  he knew there was more out there for him and he went for it.

I am so proud of this man.  I’m proud that I get to be his wife. What an honor to spend the rest of your life with someone so loving, inspiring, dedicated, and hard-working.  It bothers me sometimes to think of the things he experienced . We talk about what he says it was like for him and I was there for some of the recovery.  I still don’t know what it was really like though.  All I know is… he won.  He beat the odds and he won.   I am so incredibly proud of him for it!

An x-ray of the external fixator.

An x-ray of the external fixator.

The external fixator... or as we call it - the cage of hell.

The external fixator… or as we call it – the cage of hell.

Cheese arm haha!

Cheese arm haha!

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The beginning of our journey with war related infertility

Kevin & I have made a decision to be open about our struggles.  We believe that only with that openness, can change occur.  Most people know about the injuries that Kevin endured in Afghanistan… an amputated leg below the knee, missing pinky, mangled wrist, and a mangled left leg.  He is lucky to be alive.  Those injuries resulted in 2.5 years of recovery at Walter Reed.  However, there is one injury that has not been talked about much.  This injury could cost us the ability to have a family.  If it wasn’t for advancements in science, that would be definite.  One of his testicles was severally damaged in the blast; it resulted in it having to be removed.  He was on testosterone replacement for years because of it.  Recently, he has undergone tests to find out fertility levels.  The results are not pretty and borderline heartbreaking. Anything under 10 million sperm is considered low.  We are talking about a couple of 100 sperm in our situation.  The reason this happened…war.

The armor that soldiers wear has a protective Kevlar diaper(sounds funny I know, but it works) for protection.  However, the Kevlar diaper does protect them if the blast shoots straight up into their groin.  However in Kevin’s case and how he was striding, as the IED exploded, the blast crept up his leg into enough of an opening to damage groin area.  Had he not been wearing this diaper, the damage would have been even more devastating. The IED’s are set to mangle you; they want you to survive but suffer.  It is sick and it is twisted, but it is the reality.  I am thankful for the thousands of soldiers that show their strength when it was meant to be taken away from them.

Thousands of soldiers have experienced this type of injury, leading to infertility.  Many young military families who were planning to have children are now wondering how their life long dream can come true.  This is not just happening to one or two couples a year, it is several hundred a year, which is adding up to thousands during this war. Some soldiers going to war are only 18 years old, they haven’t even thought of a family yet. The idea of a family is robbed from them before it is even a reality for them.  It is a real problem.  If I knew someone going for deployment now, I would highly recommend freezing some sperm.  The ability to have a family is valued significantly.  When that is taken away from you, it is devastating.  It is worth the precaution in my opinion.

Kevin and I want to start our family soon after getting married.  We’ve already started the process of determining how this is going to be possible for us.  We’ve been told by Walter Reed that we will require IVF in order to conceive a child.  In the middle of April, we have a consultation with Shady Grove Fertility.

The best part… Tricare and the VA Specifically EXCLUDE all fertility treatments.  The cost of the treatments (which runs from $7,000 to $20,000) is completely on the solider and the family. It does not matter to the VA why the infertility is present.  It is simply not covered.  For the soldiers who are only suffering infertility as a result of their war injuries, thousands of dollars will be needed to hopefully make it happen.  To make their dream of having a family a reality will completely depend on their financial situation.  All families should be financially comfortable before having children.  But in this case, being financially ready is not similar to a family who conceives naturally.  It is forking out thousands of dollars before the child is even conceived!   I’ve heard people say… why not adopt?  My response to those people would be, have you considered the cost of adoption?  Also, the want and need to carry your own child can be unbearable.  It does not simply go away.  Plus when so much else has been taken from you, this is just another blow.  Every family deserves to have a family the way they choose.  It saddens and stresses me that Kevin & I will be faced with significant financial obligations in order to have our family.  However, we both agree, it will be worth it.

I will be sharing our story with fertility while we experience it.  We are sharing this to make people aware that this is a real problem.  Our government refuses to recognize it.  Men and woman who fight for us should not face significant financial obligations to have their families, if a war injury caused their infertility. We will be meeting with government officials to get their support with changing the laws that make it this way.  We will be asking for support in the future with issue and we hope you can add your voice!  Our hope is that by sharing such personal stories, we can make a difference for other people facing the same problems.  Our injured soldiers deserve the same opportunity to have the family that they could have had before their injuries.  We know the change will not come soon enough for us; but hopefully, we can help initiate change for others.

baby feet