Where I'm At

Where I'm At.jpg

I was rather quiet in 2017. I released my erotic horror novella in January, put out a couple blog posts, and tweeted a bit. I had plans to re-release the four novels in my back-list as soon as I cleaned them up and slapped on new covers.

Then two things happened. First... Woo boy, did I underestimate the wide gap in readability between Caught in the Devil's Hand and Eidolon. I'm glad to see how much I've improved from my first story to my (technically) seventh, but I seriously worried a reader who had enjoyed one of my more recent stories would get whiplash just from the first page of Devil's Hand. Having reclaimed the publishing rights to the stories I once sold through Ellora's Cave, I had an opportunity to improve the quality of Devil's Hand and Oblivion, so I decided to take it.

Thus, most of the first half of 2017 was spent revising three of the four novels I (definitely!) will re-release this year. These stories will be listed as second editions due to the changes, but I cranked up the dial on the romance scenes, and I even wrote a bonus scene for my time-travel historical Stay With Me. (It's so good, you guys!)

The second edition cover of  Stay With Me

The second edition cover of Stay With Me

What about the second thing that happened, you ask?

If you read one of my posts from January 2017, you'll recall that I was struggling with infertility and all its attendant emotional/physical turmoil. Here's the update to that. (Spoiler: it's happy...eventually.)

Summer 2016, Hubs and I decided to do IVF again. This time, I'd be given higher doses of medication. Due to certain factors, I was at risk for something called Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome (OHSS), so they had to be careful about how high my hormone levels became. OHSS has three stages of symptoms, the most severe of which lands you in the hospital. A subsequent pregnancy almost always exacerbates these symptoms, so I knew going in that I would not be transferring an embryo right away.

Indeed, the second round of IVF was much harder on me, physically. At one point during stimulation, my ovaries were so swollen with eggs that they were touching each other. I ended up with moderate OHSS symptoms, and gained nearly ten pounds of water weight (mainly in my midsection) in the days after the egg retrieval. The antibiotics I was given after the procedure only made my discomfort worse. Thus, I was a miserable sausage for more than a week.

But we got a lot of mature eggs, many of which fertilized beautifully, so I was ecstatic. We transferred an embryo in November, and I was really hoping I'd have to abstain from a glass of wine at Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, I did not.

That December, I underwent yet another hysteroscopy. I opted to do it under anesthesia this time. My uterine lining apparently likes to go ape-shit if left to its own devices, and my doctor believed I'd have better luck with a "cleaner" uterus.

Another embryo transfer in January 2017. It's a ten-day wait between transfer and pregnancy test, and each time, that ten-day wait is worse than the one before. Some people don't have early-pregnancy symptoms, and if you've never been pregnant, you don't know if one of those people is you, so every twinge, every moment of feeling strange, and every tiny sign gets overanalyzed. "Does this pinch in my abdomen mean something, or do I have gas?" "Am I pregnancy-tired or stress-tired?"

Early February, I took a blood test and waited anxiously for a nurse to call. When she did, I could hear the hesitancy in her voice when she said the test was positive, and yet I couldn't help squealing with joy. Then came the heart-rending part: yes, I technically had a positive result, but it was disconcertingly low. I'd have to re-test in two days. Sure enough, two days later, the test was negative. (This is what's called a "chemical pregnancy".)

I was gutted. Everything had been perfect. My hormone levels, my uterus, my embryo. How had this happened? What about me was sabotaging this?

My doctor wanted to do some new blood tests. One came back with something fishy, and it was explained to me that this result could indicate that my body goes wild fixing small capillary breaks. (An implanting embryo counts as a "small capillary break", by the way.)

The sucky part was that confirming the result takes THREE months of no hormones, no doctor visits, no new attempts at getting pregnant, and then re-testing once my system was clear. I was anxious to keep going, but it was something I had to rule out before continuing on, so I did. I worked on my edits, Hubs and I did a few home improvement projects, and we tried to think of the break as something we needed for our mental health.

What was strange was how, despite feeling mildly frustrated at times, I did return to "Normal" partway through that three-month break, a state of existence I had nearly forgotten. I wasn't constantly thinking about my next appointment. I wasn't taking medication that messed with my mood. I wasn't where I wanted to be, but it was like I had been granted a reprieve that I wouldn't have been able to give myself. Rather, a doctor had to tell me to chill the hell out for a while.

Summer came around again. I re-tested. That one result came back even more out of normal bounds than before. I was told I needed to consult with a specialist about how to counteract the problem. (Not submit to an exam or take new tests—just talk.) I called for an appointment with said specialist and was told I wouldn't be able to have this one discussion with them for another three months.

The moment I learned I couldn't have a 15-minute conversation with someone until a whole season of the year had passed, I was at the reproductive clinic and about to see the social worker. I sat down with her in a panic. I had been forced to twiddle my thumbs for three months already, I couldn't do it again. I thought to myself that my uterus had been unsupervised for those twelve weeks, and who knew what Jackson-Pollocking it had done to itself during that time? I asked the social worker why the process had to be like this. Why did I have to make an appointment three months out just to get a specialist to look at a pair of numbers and give their opinion?

The best she could do was call the specialty clinic on my behalf, get me in with someone else there, and shorten my wait to seven weeks.

And guess what, everyone? Guess what happened after waiting seven weeks and sitting down with this person? Guess what I learned after almost five months of wanting to try again?

That one abnormal test result doesn't mean anything. It's not part of the official set of results used to determine a laboratory diagnosis. Yes, it was high, but it's not the issue. They literally don't have enough research evidence to know if it affects anything with regards to pregnancy.

If you can read the frustration in my words, then you know I'm still baffled that I couldn't have been given this information in an email a few days after I was re-tested. I'm mad I had to re-test at all, considering the abnormal result wasn't part of the set of results they use to make a diagnosis. It'd be like seeing someone's low bank balance and deciding to look into whether they're being blackmailed.

Despite my frustration, all I could do was push forward. I couldn't do anything about the time lost. I couldn't do anything about no longer having a reason for my painful loss in February. Summer was ending, and it was time for yet another embryo transfer.

Unfortunately, my uterus had been hard at work making a mess of itself. My planned transfer date was scrapped, and I was told another hysteroscopy lay in my future. Again, another moment of panic. Would I have to wait a month or two for an opening?

Thankfully, my luck had begun to turn. The head of the clinic had one opening in her surgery schedule the next week. We took it. Indeed, my uterus needed some help, and after a brief recovery period, we were ready to do a transfer, which happened near the end of September 2017. After so many failed attempts, however, we decided it was time to transfer two embryos rather than just one. Doing so doesn't double the chance of a pregnancy, despite what common sense might tell you, but it does increase the likelihood a little.

I spent those ten days between transfer and pregnancy test terrified. I tried so hard to stay calm, not just for my sake but for my body's sake. I didn't want to stress it out, too. But I did the same overanalysis of every twinge, every moment of feeling strange.

In the days leading up to the blood test—which, by the way, would land exactly on my fifth wedding anniversary—I began needing naps to get through the day. Two o'clock would roll around and I'd need to pass out for an hour or two. A tiny part of me (one that had been so much bigger and louder years ago when we first started trying to conceive) wanted to think the fatigue was a sign. After all, the medical assistant who had been at the transfer, the same one who had taken my vitals at my first ever appointment at the clinic, had told me with such confidence that I'd start wondering why I was so tired.

But the despondent part of me firmly denied this hope. "You're just stressed. Don't count on this." Every time I felt a tiny pinch, always in the same place on the right side of my uterus, that part of me would scoff. "It's just a bit of lunch not sitting right with you. It doesn't mean anything. You're dreaming."

Hubs and I ended up not planning anything fancy for our anniversary. If it was good news, we could go out for dinner somewhere nice. (It wasn't like we'd have trouble getting a table on a nondescript Thursday.) If it was bad news, we could get shit-faced at home and eat pizza.

The day of the test, I went early to the clinic's lab on the first floor. I was in and out in less than ten minutes. I expected to get a call by lunch, so Hubs and I tried to distract ourselves for the rest of the morning.

I had a small breakdown about ten a.m. I didn't cry, but I had trouble breathing and needed Hubs to help calm me down. We did a breathing exercise. In for five, out for five. I felt better after about fifteen minutes.

Finally, the call came sometime before noon. We both dropped what we were doing. Hubs was on his knees next to my chair. The nurse said, "I have ~good news~!" and I could hear the joy in her voice. I swear my heart skipped.

Whatever was said after that is no longer in my memory banks. I'm sure the nurse gave us the details of the test result, then instructions for a confirmation test in two days (my pregnancy hormone level was expected to double). I'm sure she congratulated us and told us how excited the rest of the staff was. But all I remember is how hot my face had become, and the tears on my cheeks, and my husband crying against my leg.

Hubs and I went to our fancy dinner and celebrated five wonderful years of marriage. Wonderful despite our long struggle. I enjoyed having to stick to water. We took joy in our news but tried not to hold onto it too hard, just in case the confirmation test wasn't good.

But it was very good. My hormone levels had tripled. I had an inkling about the two embryos, but dared not speak it aloud. We'd be performing an early ultrasound in another week and a half, so I decided to wait until then. In the meantime, we shared the news with close family.

The doctor who performed the follow-up ultrasound was the same one who had comforted me after my second failed IUI attempt. She's petite and serene, and she admitted afterward that even she crossed her fingers before joining us in the exam room. The same medical assistant who was at the embryo transfer was there, too. The wand went in, and I saw two little sacs on the ultrasound screen. The doctor and I both went, "Oh!" Hubs whipped his head from the smaller screen on the machine to the larger one on the TV behind him and went, "What?"

Fraternal twins. After three and a half years of desperately wanting to bear children, not only was I pregnant, but I'd be having two babies. Hubs burst into tears. I wanted to comfort him, but the medical assistant did it for me. The doctor used the Doppler and got heartbeats on both of them. A moment I'll never forget. We took home pictures, and got to share even more good news.

Then I hit six weeks of pregnancy. And oh my God, y'all...

Some people don't get "morning sickness", as it's called. For those who do, avoiding it is usually a matter of small, frequent meals—keeping something in your stomach, basically. ("Morning sickness" is a misnomer, by the way. The nausea can hit anytime, day or night.)

For me, I had low- to mid-level nausea constantly for seven weeks. I didn't throw up, but neither could I stand for more than a few minutes at a time, or sit up for more than perhaps an hour. The nausea left my battery at a perpetual 10%. At its worst, I felt like someone was pushing their thumb against the hollow of my throat, and I'd struggle to finish sentences. I'd be lucky to get through a day having gagged only a dozen times.

I tried to control the nausea with food, but no matter what I ate or how often, I wanted to puke. My appetite vanished. I could hardly choke down nuts, crackers, fruit, and bread. We stopped cooking dinners because I couldn't eat more than a few bites. Despite how sensitive my stomach had become, Hubs took incredibly great care of me, and blamed popular media for lying to him about how bad morning sickness could get. ("They always show that one moment of running to the toilet to puke, and then you never see the character nauseated again!")

Anyway, that's how I lost a huge chunk of my 2017—to ever-present nausea. On the days when I didn't spend it passed out on Unisom in a desperate attempt to be unconscious rather than nauseated, I finished a couple video games and read a few books. Needless to say, we didn't get many holiday decorations up, and I was grateful for the first time that we don't get many trick-or-treaters. I wasn't in a fit state to be handing out candy.

Now it's 2018, and my goals for the year have to take certain things into account. Edits have resumed (and they're going great!), but come summer, I'll be taking maternity leave. I'm not sure what it will look like when our routine at home re-settles, but for now, my goal is to re-release those four novels and get as much done of a new first draft as possible. (And this one, I promise, will have a Happily Ever After.)

If you'd like to find out when you can get fresh copies of Caught in the Devil's HandOblivionStay With Me, and Escape With Me, be sure to sign up for my newsletter at the bottom of any page. I don't spam you with mailings, and your email address will never be given to any third parties. Sign up today!