The Infertility Companion for Catholics: A blog book tour and giveaway!

Today I have the pleasure of introducing a new resource that maybe all of us at one time or another wish existed.  In fact, maybe its lack started us to writing about infertility on our blogs or made us start a blog all together.

An actual book about infertility for Catholics!  Novel idea, eh?

The book is The Infertility Companion for Catholics: Spiritual and Practical Support for Couples, written by Angelique Ruhi-López and Carmen Santamaría and published by Ava Maria Press.

The idea for this book was born out of the experience of two friends, Angelique and Carmen, who live in Florida and who both had unexpected obstacles in their journeys to growing their families, including infertility and secondary infertility.  While they didn’t journey simultaneously (first one friend, then the other), their shared experiences helped them to see the need for a very Catholic resource and eventually drove them to write this book. Over these next two weeks you’ll see from the schedule here that a bunch of different bloggers will be participating in the “Blog Book Tour” to give you reviews, excerpts, interviews, and giveaways surrounding the release of this book, which has been scheduled to conveniently coincide with Infertility Awareness Week, April 22-28th.  How smart is that?

Angelique and Carmen, just hanging out, writing books together :)

The book title does say a lot about whats in it: practical and spiritual support.  When I first heard about this book I really did think to myself (and maybe out loud), Oh please don’t be just another Catholic book telling us don’t do IVF.  Don’t get me wrong, for many people, this is an important topic that needs to be clarified from the get go.  We’ve all heard that “Oh, my friend so and so did IVF and she was Catholic” so clearly, this is an important moral question that needs to be addressed and discussed in a very loving manner because many, many people out their haven’t heard this message.  However, I was just praying that this book didn’t stop there!  To tell someone what treatments are off limits without offering the alternatives and support to make it through a now even more estranged journey (which is where most Catholic materials I’ve read seem to stop) is a bit like – forgive the bad analogy – throwing someone in an ocean, telling them they can’t use a raft, and then expecting them to just learn to swim and make it back to dry land on their own.  Sure, maybe some will figure it out, but a great deal of people will struggle and flail in the process.

So back to the book, the first chapter reads very instructive and well, practical.  Helping the reader to answer the question if they meet the scientific definition of infertility and a rundown of some common diagnoses.  Before going into what the Church teaches about artificial reproductive technologies (ART), there is a great little chapter about what our faith has to do with infertility at all, including references to familiar bible stories and a background to theology of the body.  For many, this is the confusing leap between why the church is even concerned with what couples do privately, and I loved that this was included before the actual details of the Church’s stance on ART! Afterwards there is a chapter on treatment options available for Catholics which addresses specific and again, practical concerns that Catholic may have with traditional approaches to infertility treatment and how best to navigate that path, including both author’s experiences.

Finding the correct spiritual support is a huge part of making it through experiencing infertility in one piece and even then it can be a close call.  This was where we get to my favorite part of the book!  The part that I was really hungry for, help finding the meaning and peace in the midst of all the cloudy emotions and remembering Jesus in all of it.  The next few chapters, Discerning God’s Will, The Cross of Infertility, and Bearing the Cross: A Spirituality of Infertility, all address these more intangible difficulties of infertility while calling us out of the darkness of despair to remember our purpose as Christians.

Probably the most valuable part of the book for me was the description and explanation of the St. Ignatius spiritual discernment exercise.  This can obviously be found elsewhere, but the application to one’s own infertility journey is very, very valuable and a good reminder to what its really all about.  And this is where I will give props to my husband for “being right” and I will hopefully not upset the blogging community too much, but this is an extremely big advantage to not blogging about every detail of the infertility journey and is probably why as some point along our paths, most of us have taken a step back from doing so.  This community provides an invaluable resource of support and love in what is otherwise a very isolating journey.  However, discerning the next steps in something so personal and spiritually important as the steps tied to the growth of your family is really between you, your husband, and God.  But saying that and knowing how to do it so you get that calm and peace in your soul are two different things.  The St. Ignatius steps laid out in this book were extremely helpful to proper discernment for dealing with any big decision, but especially infertility related ones since it can get so confusing emotionally.  Its always good to remember to have that quiet time between just you and God to pour your heart out and then really, truly listen.  Good stuff!

There’s a lot more to this book, including a very necessary chapter from Carmen’s husband talking about the male perspective of male factor infertility which I applaud him for writing and telling a much needed perspective that is non-existent in the blog-world, as well as a chapter on Infertility’s Effect on Marriage, dealing with The Loss of Miscarriage (including instructions on what to physically do after a miscarriage as well as support network resources), and Opting to Adopt.  There is also a great chapter on How Family and Friends Can Help, which would be great to give if you’re having difficulty explaining to those trying to understand infertility how they can support their loved ones and that in a mine field of things not to say, there really are things that can help.

The fact that the book was peppered with inspiring quotes, bible verses, and catechism references makes it very biblical and Catholic resource that really helps tie the suffering of infertility directly to our faith.  Each chapter has a list of further references at the end that will help the reader find more information on a topic of interest.  Although at times it can be confusing to remember who is writing each chapter (Angelique and Carmen switch on and off) and it would have been nice to have a reminder as each chapter started, a strength of this book really is the perspective of two women, one who faced infertility and one who is currently facing infertility.  The difference in tone of their writing is subtle, but perhaps its like reading the blogs of women who have become pregnant and had children vs. those that are still in the midst of the struggle.  There is a difference, maybe a wisdom or confidence that comes from experiencing faith and prayers completed vs. an inspiring  rawness of someone still following faithfully in the struggle that makes a difference in relate-ability and ultimately makes the book a stronger resource for all of those dealing with infertility.  It is really a great resource for those starting off on this journey or looking for more resources to support them along the way.

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 Finally, in being given a chance to read and review this book I was also given the opportunity to give one away to a reader!  I’ve never actually done a giveaway before but am super excited to be able to have this as a giveaway prize!

Anyone can enter and the rules are simple: just leave a comment with your name (or pseudonym), email (only I will see your email – so I can tell you you won!) and one thing that you would look forward most about reading this book.  Or the one thing you wish this book would address if you didn’t see it addressed up there.  If you don’t feel comfortable commenting I’ll accept an email entry as well :)

I’ll close the comments in a week, April 24th, aka Baby Moonhead’s “official” LMP due date, select a winner at random and send you this book!

You can either try to win this book for yourself or for a friend who you know would appreciate it, both are great ideas!

Thanks again for reading and a special thanks to Angelique and Carmen for letting me get a head-start on the blog tour to accommodate for our blessed extenuating circumstances over here!
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Progesterone wrap-up

Its an amazing day when you finally see that this…

…has turned into this…

and these…

Today we celebrated our ceremonial last shot!  Yahoo!  Not quite per doctor’s orders, but we’ll only be doing the suppositories 2x a day for the next two weeks.  That means we’re getting close!

Here is a little chart I put together for our own sake about our progesterone levels, but maybe it will help someone else out so I’ll post it here.  We had several draws that were “bad” (due to inaccurately taking the previous dose too close to the draw date) so those data points aren’t shown.  Also, I’ve read that The National Hormone Lab uses a specific method to measure the progesterone and hence why we had to go to the extra hassle to send it out there to be run instead of running it in our local lab.  For thoroughness, not all of my data points were run at the same lab, in case you’re trying to publish a paper on this or something :)  The last half of them were though.  And I cannot for the life of me find our conception chart that has our peak +7 (on HCG) and our first progesterone blood draw data on it.  I think both were in the low 20’s though.

(The zones are based on the data taken from about 850 normal pregnancies.  Blue line is the average of the data with the dotted lines flanking on either side one standard deviation).

From the book Dr. H wrote, there were also no findings of birth defects and/or increased weight gain of the baby (as my midwife was concerned about) with progesterone use.  Not only were there no detrimental side effects to the baby, but there were also some good side effects found for the mother.

Anyway, useful information for someone else that might be wondering if extended use of progesterone in pregnancy is beneficial.  It seems that literally no one else has done research on 2nd trimester progesterone use besides Hilgers (though many have found that first and third trimester use of progesterone can be very effective at preventing miscarriage and preterm labor, respectively).  So, though its hard to think about and hard to explain to your local doctor/ob-gyn, at least I finally rest easy knowing that there is no data saying that its harmful.  And that maybe I’d avoid some post-partum depression while we’re at it.

But anyway, here’s to the last progesterone shot of the pregnancy!  Thank God for the medicine that helped keep this little one safe and sound in there all this time.   It took some convincing (I’m a difficult patient) but it seems our progesterone levels never stayed high enough on our own, so at least we know my levels were higher on the juice which = better for the baby.  And that’s really what its all about.

The first picture of “us”

I don’t know if foreshadowing is the right word, but I don’t know how else to describe it.  I haven’t told anyone else besides my husband this story so I don’t know if it will make sense but here it goes…

I want to write down all the reasons why it boogles my mind that I got pregnant the month I did.  You would think I would be used to it by now but at alllmost 12 weeks I’m still trying to comprehend it and not take any moment for granted.  Part of me feels like I was finally settling into being sub-fertile and I wrote many of the reasons that prove I was settling in was way back here, right around the time I wrote the first draft of this post.

But what really, really made me think I wasn’t pregnant was because Monday, my P+12, I took a pregnancy test.    And it was negative.  That’s pretty conclusive, right?  Negative test on a month you take HCG?  Only, I didn’t take it hoping it would be positive, I took it because I had a weird feeling.  My husband and I got into an argument that weekend, during which I realized in our quest to be a mother to imaginary children, I had been doing a pretty horrible job at my first responsibility, being a wife to a man here and now.  And so I realized what had to go.  We had had our surgery, which was our deal – fix the things that can be fixed no other way – but somewhere in there we started along the treatment path with the HCG, which I admitted made me more emotional and difficult than I already am, requiring so much out of the people closest to me.  So that’s what made me take a step back.  No more treatment, I said.

Only, there was still the issue of that month.  So that’s why I took a pregnancy test that month.  After deliberatly deciding and praying to God that this was not where we were supposed to be focused right now and that we needed to turn it back to the basics, I actually feared that I might be pregnant – because that would screw it up.

Yes, for the first month in 2 years, I decided that it was better if we weren’t pregnant.

A day after the fight I got that feeling…that what if I just prayed for the exact wrong thing and God’s messing with me and I’m actually pregnant feeling.  So on peak+12 I took that third pregnancy test, just to know it was negative and I could move on.  Of course the negative line showed up and I went about my day, not surprised at all.

Around that same time was the announcement of the perfectly planned pregnancy on Facebook, complete with a backlog of “belly pictures” dated from the beginning of the the pregnancy.  For some reason the thought occurred to me how much support those few pictures garnished, that she had such proof of her short time of ‘waiting’ and evidence of the changes she had been through.

So I threw myself a great big pity party of 1 and decided it would be a great idea to take a ‘belly picture’ of me, alone, with a flat belly and a caption of X weeks waiting and still exactly the same.  So I calculated it out and I came to the number 99.  99 weeks waiting was where I was at.  99 weeks of waiting and nothing.  I actually purposely waited a bit before executing the solo photoshoot because I realized that I was being snarky and probably idiotic in taking such a picture.  But after that negative test on P+12, the next day I thought what better time than now, right after doing some morning yoga.

But a strange thing happened and I guess this is why I’m bothering to share this story with you at all.  I took a series of pictures and something crazy happened on the second one:

I promise those are in order and not photoshopped.  I took the third one after I looked at the second and saw the bright light illuminating the background, despite doing nothing different.  I took it to see if it would happen again, if maybe something was wrong with the way I positioned the camera.  But no, it went back to exactly the same as it was before.  I’m pretty sure such a malfunction only happens like, 1 in 1000 shots, where the shutter closes too quickly or something.  But for it to happen at this exact moment?  When I positioned myself to stand alone under the “Michael <3’s Alison” sign for the ultimate pity shot?  When I was feeling as alone and isolated as possible, only to have the backlight illuminated so brightly and intensely that my first thought when looking at this picture was Dear God, how can I be so selfish to ignore you?  You make it so evident you’re here with me even in my most pitiful moment.

So, I decided not to post the pictures with my snarky post.  I realized that even if I think its just me and my husband trying alone and waiting without the acknowledgement of the world and friends, God would still be there with me.  That picture was my little miracle and proof that when He wants to, He’ll make Himself known. I don’t need to proclaim announcements on Facebook or be jealous of those that do…this is enough for me.

The picture developed a whole other meaning looking back after what I found out about a week later.   I can now look upon that picture as a miraculous picture as the first “belly shot” of me and my child, at only 2 or 3 days post-implantation.

99 weeks trying...unknowingly 3 weeks pregnant

My husband got chills when I told him this story after we found out we were pregnant.  I was almost too embarrassed to tell him let alone the whole internet how far my self pity had gone that week.  But, there it remains.  And I don’t think that because I went to the brink, I somehow “caused” this pregnancy.  It amazes me when people think they can cause or earn such good fortune and this is no different.  This was just a little moment where I feel that God literally reached out to me to make Himself visible at a time He knew I really needed it.  I can’t pretend to make sense of God’s plan and I feel to try to would be to belittle His omnipotence.

Still praying for those who’s reality is harder to ‘just accept’…God is with you even if there’s no proof in the moment.

HCG Question

So…I just finished up my first series of post-peak HCG shots to take care of that PMS and type-III luteal defect and I’m finding that I feel worse than normal.  Like, way worse.  Like, completely not in control of my normally quick emotional response to the extent that I have to put a muzzle on myself or leave the room to keep from punching people.  I have been pretty resistant to starting any type of fertility treatment because of the side effects of taking all these drugs and sometimes I already feel like it takes all my control to not lash out at the world, so I’m curious if this is just me or if other people have felt the same. I thought what I had read and been told about HCG is that its supposed to make PMS symptoms better, not worse.  Instead I just feel amped up, shaky, super fast heartbeat, and really aggressive.

My husband informed me that body builders use HCG to pump up so it basically acts like a steroid, which explains my quick-to-anger-ness.

(Which might also explain the chest acne, haven’t had that in years.)

(He also asked me not to punch him).

I thought HCG was like, baby fertility drugs?

So, dear internets-who-have-HCG-experience, is this normal?  Did/do you have similar responses to HCG?  Am I just crazy?

This roided up girl appreciates your comments…