Sand Walls

It is a fact: I can’t feel anything. Not a single physical distress. Nothing. Nada… It is true. It is pure genetics. It is a fact of nature. When it comes to couple’s infertility, the woman is the one dealing with all the body changes and feeling all physical reactions to the treatments. Not me. Her. And that sucks…

Don’t get me wrong, I am not into any kinky stuff where I would enjoy physical pain or like to wear questionable outfits for a dude. But the fact that only she suffers from the physical impact of the infertility treatment makes me feel frustrated from time to time. After all, my wife and I share an undeniable strong bond, created out of love and companionship over this long journey of ours, but one that limits the men to only experience the emotional half of the story.

I try to put myself on her shoes. I try to think how would I feel if it was my body changing with the mountains of hormones. I try to think of my reaction to every unfamiliar pain. I try to imagine my anxiety of not knowing if a spasm was just a normal reaction to the drugs or if it was something worse…I know I am supportive. I try to be understanding. I am compassionate. But no matter what I do, there is nothing I can do that would make me feel exactly how she does, and that puts a limit to my understanding. A limit that can build-up to an involuntary barrier between the couple, one that grows from each side out of pure frustration. Frustration for the unknown. Frustration for not being able to truly share everything related to the treatment. Frustration for not being able to truly understand how each one feels.

Thankfully, those barriers are not made of solid rock. Instead, they are built as the walls of a sand castle, coming down easily at the first united resistance.  At the risk of sounding a bit corny, I would say that they could be effortlessly washed off by tears of love and compassion.

As of many of my reactions to the emotional roller coaster of our infertility journey, the frustrating feeling of sharing only half the pain is not logic nor rational. It is instead the ultimate cry for understanding when clarity becomes to fade. It is a reaction to dwell with the uncomfortable feeling of not being in control, of not being able to truly understand the entire process, of being tired of the walking in unknown territory. But that is our life and, most importantly, that is our choice.

Yes. If there is one thing we have control over this entire process is that we have chosen to be on this path. And that realization made all the difference… Instead of becoming frustrated for not being able to fit on my wife’s shoes (again, just a metaphor. Not kinky stuff…) I have accepted the fact that this journey is ours by choice and not by fate, making me more capable to deal with her’s and mine feelings about it. Is this easy? No, not at all. Doable? You bet. After all, I begun to trust that the sand walls built on our infertility path could be made increasingly fragile if we believe in our choice and in our love to see them completely gone.

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Pacing myself

I like to sweat my stress off exercising; drifting away by doing something aerobic, something dynamic. I like activities that require my concentration and my dedication while not being too demanding from a coordination stand point. Therefore, my workout choices normally revolve around the time of the year and the time I have available at the moment, or a combination of both. I can go for a swim or a bike run when it’s warm, but I will likely find myself at the gym or at our basement’s treadmill when the thermometer begins to show single-digit temperatures.

At the gym, with so many options for activities available, I have to choose wisely the type of aerobic exercise that would best suit my abilities. Being aware of the limitations imposed by my somewhat “diminished fine motor skills” (let’s say I was never the first or the second or the third to be drafted at soccer…) allows me to choose wisely among the myriad of classes and equipment available. Therefore, I know that there is no chance for me to do one of those classes with a “routine” in it. Body Combat? Forget it. Zumba? Heck, no! I am Latin, but I can’t do that… So my options for aerobics without hurting me or any fellow “athletes” got shrunken to two “single class” ones: the treadmill and the elliptical.

One equipment, however, always kept me intrigued: the step machine. Honestly, I looked at that weird, clunky thing and though: what a waste of time and energy that should be. And when I saw people doing it and literally melting on it, I thought that those were folks in a lousy shape and with an even bigger lack of fine motor skills than me… That was only until I decided to try it just for the sake of it. Oh boy! As it may not be news to many who take the step machine seriously, it was actually extremely hard and physically demanding! I think I lasted 15 min tops and almost needed a med evac afterwards… I have jumped on the equipment without asking for assistance, so I was clueless about the way it worked, it’s suggested set-up for someone my age and weight and the expected result after a one-time trial. It was definitely an unpleasant experience… After recovering, however, I decided to give it another try. And no, I did not ask for directions again. Come on, I am a Dude after all… The second time was as challenging as the first, but I had intuitively learned to pace myself so I would not require the paramedics and an oxygen pump afterwards. I survived. And, out of respect for the equipment, decided that my other fitness options were more than enough to fulfill my objectives.

But why am I talking about the step machine and what does it has to do with couple’s infertility? Well, I find that both have a common denominator for success: pace!

Yes, pace. As I reflected back on my experience with the equipment and I compared it to my wife’s and mine journey through infertility, I found that the ability to understand my own limitations to move from one step to the other was equally important in both occasions. Just like on the equipment,   IVF treatments are taken one step at the time. Seems simple, but it is not. A couple has to first find the clinic, then trust the Doctor, then do all exams, then do the treatment to retrieve the eggs, then collect the sperm, then hope both egg and sperm are good, then do the fertilization, then hope the embryos are good, then prepare for the transfer, then do the transfer, then wait for those dreaded two weeks to pass for the first blood result, then get the second blood result, then get the first ultrasound, then pass the first trimester, then find an OB,  then pass the second trimester, then the third, then worry about delivery and then finally see the baby be born. Puff… I get exhausted just by thinking about it. And that’s assuming all will always go well in each and every step, hardly a reality when dealing with couple’s infertile.

Then I imagined doing all of that at the wrong pace. I imagined myself trying to speed-up to get to end faster. I imagined myself climbing two steps at the time, trying to gain a head-start over the IVF process. I imagined myself rushing through the many exam results to get an early finding. Then I imagined myself not being able to catch a breath, with my muscles cramping and my heart racing… Yes, just like my first time at the step machine, I believe I would achieve nothing by increasing the pace I went through our many IVF treatments. In fact, I was risking getting tired faster. I was risking experiencing fatigue sooner. I was risking being discouraged to proceed and, just like after my second attempt on the step machine, quitting it altogether.  But I have learned that, like in many other activities, pacing myself while climbing such a sharp slope as the IVF process was fundamental to allow me to believe that I can endure until the end.

So I have not given-up on the infertility treatments. Instead, I have been working hard to ask directions and get informed, replacing my intuition for facts while building the strength required to climb the steep IVF stairwell to the top. And I believe that when I do get there, I will still have plenty of lungs to scream out and celebrate the success of the journey!

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Speed dating with Parenthood

My wife and I are fortunate to have many dear friends that have given us the privilege of enjoying the love of their children. We have become the “unofficial” uncle and aunt that, even though do not share a blood connection, have a deep emotional bond with the little ones. We have seen most of them be born and have marveled at their physical and emotional growth. And the unconditional love these kids give back is simply amazing!

And I believe that a small part of being a good Uncle is to be available for babysitting from time to time. And boy, how do I learn every time we are with these kids…

It is always great, but it made me wonder how parents do it on a 24 hours basis as I was simply exhausted at the end of each stay… And I had the easy part! Since the kids could be with us for a couple of hours or for the whole night, we shared tasks. I was responsible for some of the entertainment, for most of the driving and for pretty much all of the cooking. Bath time, poo time and the terrifying dipper change still remained something my wife diligently and efficiently took care of… And yes, I was there the entire time and did not run to a friend’s house to watch a game… Of course we had the tendency to “over do it” every time we had the kids around and that required an extra boost energy from my part, but what good of an uncle I would be if I would not spoil them a bit? Even though we were respecting the specific schedules and needs of each kid regarding eating, playing and sleeping habits, we often found ways to fill in the gaps, thinking of different ways to entertain them in ways they would not normally do on their daily routine.

And it was fun! So much so sometimes I had to remember myself of who was babysitting who…

But having the kids around also gave my wife and me the opportunity to speed dating with parenthood, having the chance to glimpse, for a few moments, into the good and the not-so-good aspects of raising a child. Of course we both knew that we were not experiencing the “real deal”, since we were with the kids for a short period of time, in an environment that was not their day-to-day routine, making their behavior already different from what it would normally have been at home. And we were lucky to have friends that did a great job in prepping them up for a time of fun with their uncles, so we have not experienced yet a day of tantrums and meltdowns. But kids are kids no matter what and I believe that all our practice in watching for them have been valuable to give us a quick peek into what life would be like when our fertility treatment is successful at last!

And the opportunity of having that sight, that quick look into a life with children is priceless. It demystifies. It educates. It reassures. Yes, raising a kid can have all the beautifully Instagram moments I see when my wife has the website on and will give us the chance to put to work all things pinned on Pinterest, but it also has all the harder times never shared on Facebook. And this reflection, in my mind, is key for someone wanting to have a family while dealing with couple’s infertility, as it takes the myth out of the equation. Experiencing what raising a child can really be offered the opportunity to see a baby for what it really is: a human being, with its beauty and its flaws. The kid we so much want to have will not be perfect. His or her upbringing will not be made of only pretty moments people will “like it” and “hash tag it”. Instead, it will be like the movie trailer from the Real Life Theater: fun, frustrating, rewarding, loving, trusting, challenging, more fun, more rewarding, still challenging…

I imagine that educating a child and establishing limits is not a walk in the park, but neither is it life itself. I for sure understand that having a child is not an easy job, but I also know that actually raising a kid is a much greater feat. And if babysitting was speed dating into the privilege of parenthood, than I am definitely up to the task!

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I never thought that I would find much meaning on a simple baby play such as peek-a-boo, but lately I do… That it is entertaining to the little ones, there is no questions about it, but when I reflected on the emotions the simple act of hiding and showing me could trigger, I found it quite telling.

Would folks react the same way as babies do when I do my own “emotional” peek-a-boo game? Would they laugh, would they cry or would they just glaze over me? Well, yes, they will do all of that… They would react with compassion, anger or indifference, or a mix of the three. But the key of this game is not necessary others’ reactions, but instead how do I respond to such reactions…

For example, I believe that it is a tendency ingrained in our human condition, or at least on the ones belonging to the same social, cultural and economical environment I am a part off, to compare one to others. And such comparison, in my view, could revolve mainly over two “themes”: material things or behaviors. Comparison over material things is something easy to comprehend, but I find that comparing behaviors is in fact a reaction to an emotion expressed on a peek-a-boo moment. This feeling become specifically strong when dealing with health afflictions, when I find it common to see folks using other people’s behaviors towards their suffering as means to compare and “rate” their own pain. After all, if I compare myself to others I might find me feeling “better then” or “worse off” someone, powering an emotion that could not be truly mine, but instead be a simple hide between the hands depending how I would “rate” myself …  I have seen others do it and I for sure have hidden myself, having incurred on a serious risk of becoming invisible every time I did it.

Take our infertility journey for example. I could compare our journey to others and feel either overjoyed with hope as our experience may not be nearly as painful as the couple sitting right beside me on the waiting room, or I can be devastated on how relatively easy it was for that couple a friend told me about. And this is dangerous, as I feel I could find myself on a tricky position, constantly second-guessing the treatment, the clinic, the Doctor and ultimately, myself.

As I wrote before, couples dealing with infertility – or with any medical condition – are treated primarily according to statistic outcomes of successful treatments, hoping to be falling on the right side of the charts. But we are all unique. And such uniqueness becomes extremely relevant when we were plotted on the wrong side of it. If I would “rate” myself by comparing to the ones on the right side of the stats, I could feel discouraged, sad and even unequal. And what good would that bring me? What possible action I could take if I would just take that empirical sentiment to guide my own emotions? The answer is simple: none.

Therefore, I choose to embrace the fact that I am unique. And, by being unique, I am really not suitable for behavior comparison, as no scale would apply to me. Consequently, comparative reactions from my peek-a-boo moments would not act as drivers to my emotions! Yes, this logic is soothing as it does suit well my male brain…

So I choose to think that our condition is particular to us and that there is no better or worse, just the reality of our single circumstances. Naïve? Perhaps. Optimistic? You bet. Challenging? Not a doubt. But by choosing not to compare myself to others, I believe that I have made myself visible. By opting to embrace our journey as a result of my wife’s and mine unique combination, I made myself relevant. By wanting to be my own scale of comparison, I took control of my emotions. And that was my true peek-a-boo moment!

Suddenly, I was the owner of my own scale, using the experiences of others as tales of similar difficulties, helping me understand what this condition is and why it happened, but never leaning on them to determine how I feel or behave towards my own fate.

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Daydreaming in the Waiting Room

Over time, I have accumulated many waiting hours in the several fertility clinics my wife and I visited in Canada and abroad. For some odd reason, when my mind became idle from the wait I often felt that the mood in those waiting rooms was very particular, as if everyone there was anxiously waiting for the result of a new recipe being made in those very weird kitchens… Strange analogy? Perhaps. But not entirely surprising given my passion for food…

As my mind traveled freely trying to avoid the gossip magazines and the fashion editorials, I imagined the feeling of a Chef just before unveiling a new creation, being surrounded by anticipation for its outcome and full of hope for its success. Like a critic dueling with thoughts about that mysterious recipe, I felt sharing the tension in the air with fellow comrades, a tension so palatable that I could almost taste people’s high hopes for a successful outcome while sensing a hint of frustration and a touch of embarrassment in case all efforts were a flop.

But the strangest thing was, despite all my delusions regarding the culinary arts, every time I felt like I was in that imaginary kitchen the dish I was waiting for was neither secret nor elaborated. It was in fact quite simple. It was popcorn. Yes, good old popcorn…

And the reason for such feeling was equally simple: like making popcorn from scratch, couple’s infertility had a very unpredictable outcome. Like pregnancy, some kernels will pop early into beautiful flakes, some will take a bit longer in the heat and some will simply burn-out.  Like in human reproduction efforts, the ingredients and the basic processes for the formula to work were well known, but it was the quality of the ingredients and the effectiveness of its mixing that made all the difference. The “recipe”, in both cases, was straightforward and known for centuries, offering the comfort of predictability to the ones falling on the right side of the statistic charts. Unfortunately for me, such predictability was never a guarantee for success.

As I clocked more thinking time in those couches and chairs, the theory of similarity between popcorn and couple’s infertility grew in me. For example, I could be sure that people dealing with infertility and popcorn kernels behaved alike…  In the pan that I saw in every clinic’s waiting room, I begun to identify similarities. Just like the many types of kernels available, I could spot different types of couples and individuals, clustering them in unique segments for my covert “analysis”. I would easily detect the over-enthusiastic bunch, those talking a bit too loud for the environment, cheering occasionally and demonstrating way too much confidence for being there… The ones that gave me the never fulfilled urge to clarify that we were not at Starbucks and that they were about to undergo the same processes I would, so there was really no point in being so brash about it. On the other hand, the coy ones were also easy to find… They would hardly make eye contact, looking either shy or embarrassed for being there. Those were the ones that were there for the first time or that have been there too many times. Either way, those couches never felt comfortable to them. Finally, there were the “normal” ones. The ones that actually seemed to understand themselves and the reasons why they were there, behaving quite elegantly under the circumstances by showing a mix of comfort, awareness and apprehension that strangely made sense.

In my wild imaginary analysis, would it mean that the kernel of the brash ones would pop early? Or would the unassuming and embarrassed ones be lucky? What about the calm and collected normal people? Impossible to tell, as I would wake-up from my fantasy unable to find any correlation between the clinics, the Doctor, my wife, the kitchen and the popcorn… The only thing I was sure about was that at some point, during our long journey through infertility, I too have been over-enthusiastic, coy and normal, depending how hot the pan was.

Now, when I am not lost in my thoughts at the waiting room, I like to think I am just a regular guy, waiting for our kernel to pop early and trying not to burn the oil in the process.

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From time to time, I would feel stuck during our drive on the couple’s infertility road. I would feel frozen, incapable of any movement and of making any decisions in regards to where to go next. I would feel as if I have traveled for miles and miles and, facing a wall or crossroads, would not know where to go. I would feel with no map or GPS, being left there standing still, immobile, waiting for someone or something to tell me what to do, where to go.

Not a very nice feeling, I should say, as I also felt weak. I felt discouraged by the long journey on that bumpy road that, instead of directing me to the so wanted destination, led me to yet another stumble. But, over time, I understood that it was Ok to feel that way. That it was not a problem to feel tired. That it was normal to lose steam from time to time. Ultimately, I learned that it was Ok to stop and take a break.

And thankfully, breaks we had throughout our infertility journey!

Our breaks were great to regain physical stamina, emotional energy and, of course, financial balance. Initially, our breaks would be long and could last weeks, even months. We would use the time necessary between procedures to focus on other things like our families, our house or our jobs. We would finally buy that piece of furniture that was going to make all the difference on our living room. We would treat ourselves with a summer of enjoyment at home, simply taking pleasure in the company of family and friends on endless barbecues. We would treat ourselves with that true vacation we were planning for such a long time, but always postponed it because of the many treatments we had undergone. Yes, big breaks were awesome!

Was it always simple and easy to take such breaks? No, of course not. The fear of “being losing time” was always there, but the emotional sanity taking a time-off gave my wife and I pretty much tipped the scale to our favor, as I am sure it gave me some extra mental energy that allowed me to continue on this journey for as long as I have been.

But I have also found out that, even though the big breaks were tremendously important, the small ones were equally relevant. By “small break” I mean that one thing I could do for myself that would make me rest… And that could be going to the gym and literally sweat-off all those heavy thoughts that were populating my brain; it could be going out for no reason to that little restaurant my wife read about or simply pay-per-view a movie with the dog on my feet, my wife in my arms and a perfect treat in our hands. Yes, that could do wonders in making me relax and not think about any roadblocks. Most importantly, the small breaks allowed me not to think too much about what I would do next.

Don’t get me wrong as I was never able to “forget” about the path we were in, about infertility. But the breaks, big or small, helped me cope with it and actually enjoy life. And I think this was the biggest learning of it all: that I was not taking time to forget or ignore it. Rather, I was making time to deal with it. Couple’s infertility is certainly one of the biggest challenges I had to deal with in my life up until now but, in essence, it is really not that different than any other obstacle I have faced before. A challenge is a challenge and I could choose to be defined and defeated by it, or I could learn from it to shape my better self. Thankfully, I have chosen the later.

Now, do I still feel tired and discouraged every time I see that wall or crossroads in our way? You bet I do! But the realization that it was OK to feel tired, pull over and take a break made me much more capable to deal with the obstacles, looking at the horizon while stretching my legs and not focusing too much to that rough road still ahead.

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It is quite remarkable the differences among celebrations between my born country, Brazil, and my home country, Canada. Culture and Economics makes it for unique perceptions of dates that may have the same roots, but carry singular importance depending where I am at in the globe.

And October is a month of unique distinctions.

October is a month of Thanksgiving and Halloween in Canada. A month of closure. A month to be grateful for the good we have harvested and to be hopeful that the next crop will be even better. A month to have fun, as all play with costumes and rejoice in candy. A month to ultimately celebrate family, all types of families. On the other hand, in Brazil October is a month of beginnings. Spring is at its peak and people are getting ready for the hot season, looking forward to Christmas and New Year’s celebrations and their summer vacations. Yes, October is a month of unique distinctions between Canada and Brazil.

And these distinctions become evident in the dedication to its many celebrations; in the way people deal with its symbols and on how folks embrace such dates.

I was born and raised in a very catholic environment; therefore Christmas was the big day to bring the family together. It was the day when people would make the extra effort to share a dinner or lunch in the company of parents, siblings, grandparents, uncles, etc. Thanksgiving, not so much. Heck, we didn’t even celebrate Thanksgiving. As any country south of the Equator, Brazil is entering summer and preparing the crops in the later part of the year, not harvesting them… Also, we did celebrate the Day of the Dead on November second, but it was a day of mourn and grieving, not a day for party. And no, we did not dress for the part. It was a spiritual celebration, not a fun one. So wearing costumes mimicking “The Return of the Living Dead” would not be as socially acceptable as it would be during Halloween in Canada…

Growing-up outside North America, I also became aware that the significance of the symbols of such holidays also varied tremendously.  An oversized, bearded, sweaty men stinking of beer on a red jumpsuit that sounded like Uncle John was, in the heat of Brazil’s 38° Celsius summer, Santa and not a bum from the street… A kid with white eyes, pale skin and exposed bloody wounds was a vision to run from in Brazil, not give candies to at the end of October… The turkey was not the traditional dish made with stuffing and gravy. Yes we may have it on Christmas, but it commanded a lighter version, dressed with dry fruits and pineapple. Gravy? Try eating it when is hot and humid and see what it does to your body…  And Fall’s chocolate craze did not really happened as people would not consider it part of an appropriate diet before getting into the upcoming “breach & pool season”. Chocolate only came strong into play on March or April, the beginning of the Fall in the southern hemisphere, paring up with the bunny on that weird reference to Easter.

The only common factor would be the dedication of folks to these traditions, no matter where we were at. Like many of my fellow males, I do not get make-up stores, I do not get Sephora. Honestly, I don’t understand how woman can be so enchanted by what seems like a maze of thousands of colorful gizmos that look too much alike for my taste… But in October, make-up seems to be somewhat unisex in North America, becoming more familiar to men going overboard in trying to look scary, funny, or both. And yes, I have used it to make the occasional pirate more real… Of course I had costume parties in Brazil, but Halloween takes it to a different dimension of dedication.  And not to mention the houses. People do get overly excited here and I wonder if this is truly for the kids or if it is for the parents that refuse to grow-up on the 31st. It is definitely fun, but all the same different. In Brazil, such dedication to home décor I only recall seeing at Christmas time, when people prepared their houses with thousands of lights and “wintery references” that may not made much sense in the tropics, but made it for a nice spectacle nevertheless.

But why am I talking about all of this and what does October has to do with couple’s infertility? Everything.

At the same time October brings these welcoming distractions that makes life easier and more enjoyable, it also offers the opportunity for closure on failed attempts and brings hope for any successful seeding yet to come. And if I am dressed silly and hype on chocolate, that’s even better!

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