Friday, November 20, 2015

November Gratitude, Where Are You?

For the past couple of years, I've written about gratitude during this season (here and here). This November, I have found it somewhat difficult to focus on the things I'm grateful for because my body has been constantly tugging me in the other direction. The nagging symptoms of advancing pregnancy are accumulating, and every day I just feel... sick. There is no virus, no particular illness; I just feel very run-down, not healthy, and not myself.

My legs have ballooned into swollen masses from the thighs to the feet. Every time I move them, I feel either itching, burning, or searing. They are hot and angry and don't fit into any pants except warm-ups and scrubs (and I'm confined to only two pairs of shoes). I'm congested and don't sleep well. I feel constant pain in my medial wrists when I lift or pinch any object due to the joint swelling that can accompany pregnancy. Every few nights I find myself in a choking fit, aspirating stomach contents after an unexpectedly large burp (actually, I don't know why this should be unexpected as they occur quite frequently).

Although I do not meet perfect criteria for gestational hypertension or pre-eclampsia at the moment, my obstetrics team is worried. I will be induced a couple of weeks earlier than my original due date to ensure that my placenta does not become dysfunctional prior to delivery. They've asked me to take it easy, work less, monitor my own blood pressures and fetal movement daily, and I must have formal fetal ultrasound monitoring twice a week. I have had to relinquish quite a few work days this month, which luckily my partners have been willing to cover. So a lot of what I'm doing currently involves sitting on the couch.

I had it so easy in the first two trimesters! And I feel guilty for even complaining about pregnancy symptoms when I tried so hard for so long to have a baby. So what do I do to keep my mind off of these negative things I'm experiencing consistently throughout every day? A few things:
  • Getting out of the house for short errands. No more long hikes or climbing gym, we're talking about going to the neighborhood grocery and back. But it makes me feel human, even if I do need to lie down afterwards. There are a few things to still prepare for baby's arrival!
  • Zen doodling and coloring in front of the fire. It works! Here is my most recent doodle:
  • Epsom salt baths. Granted they must be lukewarm, but having my legs suspended in water is the only time that they don't have unpleasant sensations. (Epsom salt baths are good for other times too, such as recovery from hard exercise.)
  • Focusing on fetal movement. I just wrote a post for Mothers in Medicine's "Thankful" topic week about how grateful I am to be feeling fetal movement. It has been my one focus of gratitude this month. The squirmy and strange feeling of the baby moving inside of me is a constant reminder of why I am experiencing all these unpleasant symptoms, and how my dreams of becoming a mom are about to come true!
What are you grateful for this month? Has it been easy or hard to identify things this year? The next time I write, my life and what I'm feeling will most likely be transformed. Until then...

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

What is it like to undergo IVF?

You've heard sayings such as "40 is the new 30", etc. However, a female child is born with all of her eggs, and as she ages, those eggs age with her. When she grows up to be a woman, she may follow a perfectly healthy lifestyle and appear younger than her real age in many ways. As a rock climber and weight lifter, I have met numerous women who fit into this category. But the reality is that a woman's eggs are indisputably as old as she is.

As the eggs age, their quality declines in the form of DNA damage, which negatively effects their ability to make a healthy embryo that will grow into a healthy baby. By the age of 40, the percentage of eggs that have DNA damage incompatible with healthy embryo formation is approximately 75%! On top of this immutable fact, aging brings the possibility of medical issues that can affect fertility in both a mother and a father. The chance of a naturally-occurring pregnancy during any given monthly cycle of a 40 year old woman is approximately 5-10%, and due to the DNA damage I already mentioned, the chance of a live birth resulting from that pregnancy is even lower. I had no idea of these horrible odds until we started our quest to become parents.

Enter in vitro fertilization (IVF). IVF is a long and detailed process requiring lots of resources, money, time, and patience. In my latest post for Mothers in Medicine, I describe the details of how IVF works, including my experiences as an IVF patient who happens to also be a busy professional. Yes, IVF required lots of shots and invasive procedures, but the most stressful part was actually dealing with the scheduling of said events, the uncertainty of outcomes and direction with each cycle, and the waiting. I had to revert to my black bag of stress management ideas many times, and the achievement of my pregnancy (I'm now almost 33 weeks) truly turned into a multi-year project.

If you're interested in learning more about this awesome feat of modern medicine, or if you are contemplating IVF yourself and want to know what it's like, check out my article at Mothers in Medicine!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Comparisons: An Easy Trap

"Comparison is the thief of joy." 
- Theodore Roosevelt

We all fall victim to comparing ourselves to someone else at one time or another. However, I've noticed that pregnancy is an especially easy time to fall into the trap of comparison-making.

My first case-in-point: My belly, the most obvious and outward sign of pregnancy, is pretty unimpressive. Although I had already gained about 10 pounds after embarking on my IVF journey, it took me about 5 months to gain any weight at all with this pregnancy. At least one person a day would say to me, "You don't look pregnant!" All the while, women with beautiful beach-ball bellies float by at work, the store, etc. (I live in Utah, after all, where there are lots of pregnant women).

I started to worry. What if my baby isn't growing correctly? Is she doing ok in there? After having a miscarriage, the shoe-drop thinking still comes and goes... I bought a handheld Doppler machine to listen to the heartbeat regularly so that I could make sure. Even with this added reassurance, I tiptoed around with my tiny "beer belly" until my structural ultrasound showed that everything was developing normally.

Why did I let those comparisons stress me out so much? I already fall outside the normal realm of anatomical size for a woman at 6'1" tall, so why would I think that my belly would look the same as that of a woman who is 5'1"?

Additionally, I am guilty of quick comparisons when it comes to exercising while pregnant. My normal activity level has plummeted during my pregnancy, but I hear of women still running, weight training, rock climbing, etc. during the bulk of their gestational period. My energy level and frankly my motivation for such things has been quite low, but I sometimes feel a twinge of guilt about it. Why am I not like those other women? And HOW DO THEY DO IT?

Comparisons in any arena of life are an easy thing to find but a thoroughly unnecessary stressor, a sure path to the land of discontent. Our current culture of social media as well as ubiquitous regular media certainly don't help the situation. How can we deal with these ever-present opportunities for comparison? First, recognize comparison for what it is. As I've analogized with rock climbing, there will always be someone who "warms up on your project" - someone stronger, smarter, etc. than you are. Also, return to the discipline of gratitude, which takes constant practice. What positive things can I find in my situation? (Well, at least I won't have tons of stretch marks and I don't have horrible back pain from a ginormous baby bump!) Reframe what you're seeing. How can you draw inspiration instead of comparison? Use the growth mindset and learn from what others are doing instead.

What about you? What comparisons are your easy traps? Share them here!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Coloring for Adults

From this

To this

When I was a little girl, we went to visit my grandparents in another state. While there, I entered a coloring contest at the local shopping mall. I said to my grandmother, "Now grandma, when I win, you can just send me my prize." This prompted laughter from the adults, but a few weeks after we returned home I got a stuffed animal in the mail for winning First Place!

I've always loved art, drawing, and coloring. I had wanted to be an artist, fashion designer, or architect until the draw of mathematics and science hit me in high school. But now that I'm far removed from the world of art and immersed in a job of science, I still come back to coloring as a stress reliever.

When I was sick and thought my entire constellation of symptoms was stress-related, I researched and tested many different stress relief tools. One of the methods I stuck with was coloring. I started out with a small set of crayons and a simple child's coloring book, but I have since graduated to some more advanced equipment. Coloring brings out that inner childhood artist in me while also providing stillness and a manual process that leads to a flow state.

I was reminded of this fun stress reliever on my most recent vacation - camping and climbing in Rifle, Colorado. Mind you, it was not an "ideal vacation" due to length (and pregnancy symptoms), but I did get a chance to spend some time coloring. Another benefit to coloring is that it takes you "off the grid"; it's not something you easily can do with a smartphone, tablet, etc.

It doesn't have to be the Crayola 12-pack and a Strawberry Shortcake newsprint pamphlet. Nowadays, there are all sorts of sophisticated and inspiring coloring books geared toward adults. I recommend ones like these on this Amazon search (I am currently working on Splendid Cities). A nice set of colored pencils is easy to come by as well.

Have you tried coloring as an adult? What did you think? Let me know your thoughts!