Jack’s favorite treat is a carrot. Keeper’s favorite treat is an ice cube. I decided to combine the two and make carrot ice treats. I haven’t decided whether it’s inventive or lazy, but either way, they love them. Keeper has a Pavlovian response to the freezer door opening since she knows that’s where they are. I’ll go to grab a bag of frozen peas and all of a sudden notice a Keeper girl sitting underneath me, asking for her carrot ice. I like making these for the dogs on hot days because it’s something cool to help them stay hydrated, and because carrots are a naturally sweet, healthy treat. The smiley face molds are just for added happiness. We recently got them a pool, too!
There are times in life for exploration. Times to sleep on trains and climb mountains, times to discover new cultures and develop yourself and how you view the world. And then there are times to lay idly by the pool listening to the lapping waves of an ocean nearby while drinking an overly sweetened virgin pina colada and occasionally leaning over to spark conversation with the old couple next to you about their two vizlas because one of their shirts says “I love dogs, it’s people who annoy me“.
The latter was what we chose to do for our “babymoon” in Kauai. Mila cat is drooling all over my arm as I write this by the way, so I’m assuming that’s her way of saying “hello internet world” to you all. She would like you to know we left her alone, without head scratches, for 5 days (although our friends did check in on her and we spoke to her through the nest cam).
We flew into Kauai on a Thursday. Earlier in the week we had went in for the anatomy screen ultrasound that told us the gender of the little human. So it was exciting and sweet to finally know and have a name to put to this small creature currently kicking my insides. We checked into the resort and promptly ordered two drinks before going and hanging out by the pool. Intermittently we’d decide to interrupt our sun lounging to submerge ourselves in one of the pool’s fountains or waterfalls like a couple kids.
The resort was really pretty, with gorgeous plumeria trees all around and a private beach. A big change from the places we usually stay at off the beaten path. I pointed out the pink plumerias in one of the trees to Trey while walking to our room, and later in the week when he came back with pizza delivery for dinner one night (my hero) because my ankles turned into cankles from too much fun, he handed me one of the pretty flowers he had picked.
The next day we picked up our rental, a red mustang convertible (they were all out of jeeps) and drove up the east side of the island. Kauai is “the garden isle” of Hawaii, and it really is just beautiful. I love how lush and mountainous it is. Along the way we stopped off for a green smoothie at Harvest Market, a natural foods grocery store with a smoothie machine in the back, and a farmer’s market where we got a fresh coconut before heading up to Tunnels beach on the northern part of the island. There we swam in the waves and spotted sea turtles and picked up shells on the beach.
A couple hours later we got back in the car and drove in search of some lunch. We found some fish tacos and cute shops in the town of Hanalei. Then we got some shaved ice at The Wishing Well (a favorite on the island because of the homemade organic syrups, according to locals…it was so so good) and continued on our way.
Our last stop of the day was Waimea Canyon, the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific”…or, that’s what our waitress told us the night before anyway. It was beautiful. The colors of the hills and rock, combined with a rainbow that spread across the sky really capped off the end of an awesome day.
Well, that and some burnouts in the mustang.
“Babe, can you stand over there for a min?” (points to edge of parking lot). I go stand “over there”. “Back up a little further!” he waved. I did. Then Trey proceeded to do burn outs in the parking lot. I wasn’t invited on this endeavor on account of having more than just two fish tacos and a snow cone in my belly. Later he told me we needed a new car (true, our mazda is part of the 10 year club now) with more horsepower when we get home because going faster is “actually a safety feature” for getting out of harm’s way quicker. Pffft.
We got back to our room to discover our friends from home had had a beautiful bouquet of local flowers and banana bread, macadamia cookies and fruit delivered to our room, which was the best surprise (I had no idea anyone knew where we were staying!). So sweet of them.
The rest of our time in Kauai was spent swimming in the waves at the beach right off the resort, drinking different fruity concoctions, eating nachos, and just being blissed out happy.
“What should the middle name be?” I asked Trey, shielding the sun from my eyes. “I really love _____”, he responded…a name I had jokingly suggested a few days ago.
I turned back to look at the beach and said the full name out loud. I liked it too. It’s still hard to believe in just a few short months the little human will be here and there will be a face to that name.
This trip was just what we needed to relax, have some fun, and set our sights on the crazy adventure that’s ahead.
I also want to say a big thank you for all the sweet words and messages you guys have left on here, Facebook, Instagram and Reddit over the past few days. I read them all and we’re really excited for what’s to come.
If you’ve been following along, you know that on January 5th we went in for an embryo transfer via a 2nd round of IVF. After taking a home pregnancy test and it coming out negative 14 days after the transfer procedure, we went in to the IVF center for a blood test to confirm the results we were getting. A few hours later our nurse called to give us the results of that test.
It was positive. TREY AND I ARE GOING TO HAVE A LITTLE HUMAN.
It feels really good to say that! When I started documenting the process, I was already half way through the 2nd round of IVF. I didn’t know whether or not it would work and was anxious, which led me to open up about it here. Since I decided to go back and start from the beginning to tell the story, the timeline has been on a bit of a delay for anyone reading this. When we found out the test was positive, I decided to finish telling the story before announcing. I wanted other women going through IVF that were reading about my process to get the full story, and for others who have people in their life going through something similar to understand what the roller coaster of IVF is really like.
Since finding out, we’ve been overly cautious with the news. We both couldn’t really believe it at first. We knew the blood test would be more accurate, but thought we had waited long enough for the home pregnancy test to read. Coming off 3 years of failure and disappointment, we almost had to convince ourselves it was really happening. We kept reminding each other to take it one day at a time since we still had 12 weeks to go to get through the first trimester before the risks of miscarriage and other complications went down. We knew from past experiences not to celebrate things too quickly.
At 6 weeks, we went in for our first ultrasound to make sure the pregnancy was in the uterus and not ectopic (in one of the fallopian tubes). We learned that there was one embryo only, and that we wouldn’t be having twins. I was relieved, though we would have made it work with twins…one was awesome. One is perfect.
Being overly cautious and not celebrating too soon ended up being a good strategy for us. Like everything has been throughout this process, the first trimester was a bit rocky. I would describe my first trimester experience kind of like the feeling you get when you step off a roller coaster and it still feels like you’re on it for a few steps afterwards. Around 8 1/2 weeks, I woke up in the middle of the night and something felt off. I looked down to see blood everywhere. It was basically my worst nightmare. As if this whole process hadn’t been difficult enough, now we were afraid things were over before they really had any time to get started.
This led to an emergency ultrasound early in the morning that found I was having major subchorionic hemorrhaging in my uterus. They said there was a 50% chance we would lose him/her and to be prepared for that. Dr. Chet put me on bed rest for the rest of the first trimester and told me to only get out of bed to do my progesterone-in-oil injections and go to the bathroom. Those 3 1/2 weeks were torturous not knowing whether or not I was going to wake up and have it happen again. They told us that subchorionic hemorrhaging of this degree typically happens when there is a trauma from a fall, or car accident, but then sometimes there isn’t a real clear explanation for why it happens other times. The only thing we could think of was me possibly coughing too hard from a respiratory infection I had at the time, but that seemed unlikely.
A week later we went in for another ultrasound, this time to check for a heart beat. Going in, we had prepared ourselves for the worst possible outcome. We were prepared to be told that there wasn’t a heart beat. Laying there, looking at the small black and white blip on the ultrasound screen while Dr. Chet examined the fetus felt like forever. He looked at the hematomas (internal bruises) that had formed in my uterus. Because everything is so small and hard to discern at that stage, it was hard for Dr. Chet to tell for certain whether or not the placenta had detached from 3/4 of my uterus, or if the dark spots were hematomas that could heal. Then he turned on the audio to the ultrasound machine and the whooshing sound of a strong heartbeat came through followed by a flicker (the heart) on the screen. He or she was still alive in there, and doing well. The nurse joked that we might have a strong-willed baby in our future, since he or she was hanging in there. Trey later told me he almost passed out in the room because he was so nervous.
Gradually, the hematomas that had formed as a result of the hemorrhaging started to heal. We went in for weekly ultrasounds to check the healing progress. We were glad to learn that nothing had permanently detached, I just needed time to heal. By 13 weeks, Dr. Chet referred me over to a high-risk OBGYN and released me from his care because things were looking good. Our last visit with Dr. Chet and the nurses was a happy one. It had been a crazy ride, but I had gotten pregnant and made it through the first trimester. We thanked Dr. Chet, the nurses, and the staff for being so kind to us. We decided to keep the news to ourselves a little longer before telling anyone. At this point we barely acknowledged there was a baby. We referred to her or him as “the embryo”, and later, “the fetus”. Looking back, I think this was because both of us were afraid of getting attached and it not working out.
Since then, things have been great. I was downgraded from high-risk to a normal pregnancy and have completely healed from the early trauma experienced in the first trimester. I was given the OK to start swimming and exercising lightly. Once we survived the first trimester, things seemed to pass by pretty quickly. Around 15 weeks or so, I was taken off the intramuscular progesterone-in-oil injections because my progesterone levels were consistent. My energy increased and we felt comfortable sharing the news with family and close friends. We met with our new OB and had a fun genetic screening ultrasound where the tech made me skip (slowly) down the hall (the mama catwalk, as the techs there called it) to turn our kid because he or she wasn’t cooperating with getting their picture taken. Our OB and the doctor who looked at the genetic screening ultrasound results told us everything looked normal, and that if they hadn’t known about the hemorrhaging from the first trimester, they would have never even suspected a thing. It was reassuring to hear that. I’ve never been so happy to be considered NORMAL.
It’s taken a while, longer than most probably, for this to feel real. I don’t think you go from 3 years of failures and the anxiety of things not working out, to being overwhelmingly happy and confident in the success you’re having. It’s been a process. Learning to allow ourselves to let our guard down and feel the happiness and celebration that comes along with having a little human is something that has taken us some time.
Trey and I have experienced that process of letting our guard down differently. For me, it happened randomly on the treadmill at the gym a couple weeks ago. I was increasing the incline from 3 to 5 like I always do after the first 10 minutes. As the steepness got greater, I found myself quietly saying “hold on!”, then realized I wasn’t talking to myself. I was talking to the little human. It was the first time I had done so. I think a part of me felt like up until then if I acknowledged her or him that they’d go away. I couldn’t help but smile a big goofy smile while walking up the rest of that pretend hill.
For Trey, it happened on my birthday last month. He brought home Thai food from the city on his way home from work. After dinner, he gave me a bag with a couple gifts inside. One of the gifts was an octopus nightlight for the little human that when you turned it on projected the moon and stars on the ceiling. We turned off the lights and sat at the kitchen table with the night light on. It’s funny how little things like a treadmill and a night light can represent so much more. For us, it was the start of letting go of the anxiety and disappointment from the past few years, and the beginning of feeling the happiness and celebration for what’s to come.
This Friday, I’ll be 22 weeks. Which is 5 months and some change. It’s hard to believe we’re already over half way through seeing as though it wasn’t too long ago when we felt like it wasn’t going to happen for us. We just got back from a little babymoon in Kauai that was really relaxing and fun. We had pina coladas (virgin for me – they’re kinda better that way??), swam everyday in the waves, and rented a convertible (the were all out of jeeps) to drive around the island.
So. Currently, there is half a burrito, 3/4 a cup of yogurt, and 1 baby human inside my belly region. In September, Jack and Keep and Mila cat will have a new human friend around.
Two dogs, a cat, two big humans and one little human. I like the ring of that. Sounds good to me.
My body had just returned to a semi-normal state when the new drugs arrived on our doorstep a week or so before Christmas. The same FedEx guy delivered them. “Happy Holidays”, the guy told me as I signed for the box in between Keeper howls saying “hello” from inside. Getting a refrigerated box delivered to your door is interesting. I mean, what do you think FedEx guy thinks is in it? A few times when we would have to carry the medications into the IVF center (which is connected to the hospital here) we would make sure to talk extra loud about the severed appendage we were carrying in the box while passing commons areas.
The medications this time were Estrace (tablets containing Estradiol, a form of estrogen), a micronized progesterone vaginal suppository (really fun), and my favorite…progesterone-in-oil, a 3 inch-long intramuscular injection that had to penetrate the fat layer so a thick oil could be injected straight into my muscle. It went into my back upper hip, which is a really nice way of saying upper-ass. Right in the buttocks. The real clincher, I couldn’t do these myself because of the awkward angle. The nurse told me I’d need to get someone else to give them to me. “No worries”, Trey informed her, stepping up to the plate. “I’ll give them to her, I’m really good at darts”
(Insert the face you’d imagine me giving him here).
IVF phase 3: Embryo Transfer
On the morning of January 5th, 2017, we woke extra early to avoid bridge traffic into San Francisco for the embryo transfer. We were excited, Trey more so than me. It’s only about a 25 minute drive to the lab where the transfer would be taking place when traffic is clear, but we left a good hour and 15 mins early just in case. I was quiet in the passengers seat most of the ride. It was a cold, clear day with the Golden Gate looking extra reddish-orange against the blue sky. I couldn’t get over this gut feeling I had that something was inevitably going to go wrong. I tried telling myself that I was only thinking this way because of how things had gone over the last few years for us and that this time was different. When I shared my reservations with Trey, he reassured me saying he was anxious too, but that we shouldn’t worry.
But then, as life goes sometimes, my gut feeling ended up being right.
As we drove through the city and made our way to the Embarcadero, I got a call from Dr. Chet. It was about 30 minutes before the procedure was about to take place. He told us through the thawing process (since the embryos were frozen), the male embryo had not fared well and was over 75% “dark”, which meant that the cells weren’t expanding and thriving like they should be, and instead were dead or dying. He told us we would have to transfer in another embryo. We were gutted. There were no more boy embryos to transfer. IVF is expensive and invasive and to have the one shot at us possibly ever having a boy of our own get taken away, was heartbreaking. Trey pulled the car over while I was still on the phone with Dr. Chet. I just remember him looking over at me as he decoded what Dr. Chet was telling me by the reaction I was having, and punching the steering wheel when he figured it out. After I hung up, we both just sat there crying. I stared out the car window at the lobby of the corporate building across from us. Everyone going about their day, bringing back salads and coffees across the outdoor commons area. It was just a regular day. I thought about Jake and the dinosaurs and how much I had always wanted that. I’ll never forget the words Trey told me in that moment. Those words are only for me, but what he said made me feel closer to him than I ever have – even after almost 11 years together. Through talking to him it became apparent that he wasn’t crying because we wouldn’t have a boy. He was crying because of how much he knew I wanted a boy.
We had a decision to make and we didn’t have much time to make it. I had told Dr. Chet I would call him back to tell him what we wanted to do. My body had been preparing for this transfer through the drugs for the past few weeks and in less than 20 minutes I was supposed to be having the procedure done. Did we want to proceed with a female embryo instead? Did we want to try just the male embryo despite it being 75% dark and having a very low probability of implanting? Did we want to put both the male and a female embryo in to still have a slight chance of having a male, but be okay with most likely having a female with the possibility of twins? Did we want to walk away and not do this at all?
In the end, the decision was difficult, but we knew what we wanted to do. More than anything, we wanted a little human. If we had a girl, she’d be the coolest girl ever. If we had a boy, it would be against all odds. If we had twins, they’d be the raddest duo ever. So we called Dr. Chet back and told him we wanted to proceed with the transfer, this time with both the male embryo and a female embryo. He instructed the lab techs and we made our way up to the 7th floor of the fertility lab.
I was a mess going in to the transfer procedure. I took a picture of Trey sitting on the couch in the waiting room before we went in. We were both pretty dazed by the morning so far.
They led us back to a room for the procedure. When they further emphasized that putting the male in would be a low probability of implantation and I heard Dr. Chet say “you’ll likely have a daughter if it’s successful”, I cried. I cried for a lot of reasons. I cried because I had prepared for a boy. I cried because I felt bad for not being more excited about the prospect of having a girl due to how much we had invested in the only male embryo. I cried because it was yet another painful twist in our infertility saga. I cried for not being normal. One of Dr. Chet’s medical students that had been with us for the past few weeks asked why I was upset and I shared with her the disappointment of losing the only male embryo we had. She was really sweet and compassionate and I was glad she was there.
The transfer itself was simple and relatively painless. They wheeled a refrigerated lab over to our room and carefully transferred the embryos from a dish into a pipette before checking with a microscope to make sure the embryos (they are tiny) had been collected from the dish. Once the lab technician gave Dr. Chet the “all clear”, the embryos were transferred from the pipette into a thin catheter that was inserted into my uterus. Dr. Chet used ultrasound to guide the catheter and transfer the embryos. No sedation was needed. Trey sat in the room too and we both stared at the projected ultrasound on the tv that allowed us to see what was happening in real time.
45 minutes later I sat up in the hospital bed and we were given a print out with a photo of the two embryos (really they are just blastocysts at this point) that had just been transferred. We looked at the two microscopic clusters of cellular mass we had created together. What a weird process this had been. The whole thing felt kinda like something out of a science fiction movie. The IVF nurse pointed out the darkness of the male embryo to show us the difference between the two embryos on the sheet they gave us.
I wasn’t sure how to feel after the procedure. I think your body goes through this kind of stressed response when you’re caught off guard by news you weren’t prepared for. You don’t really feel much, you’re just kind of in this state of shock. Like someone has pulled the ultimate rug out from underneath you. This changed a lot. We had left the house that morning thinking about the single boy embryo that was going to be transferred and whether or not the process would be successful and I’d get pregnant. Now we were leaving the lab with two embryos transferred inside of me, one male and one female. Where we had thought our future held a boy (or me not getting pregnant at all), now the future possibilities were different.
Dr. Chet advised me to go home and lay in bed for the next few days as much as I could and “no swimming” (hard to tell a swimmer, it’s a drug).
Then came the longest two weeks of our lives thus far waiting to know whether or not the transfer had worked. I watched 3 seasons of this British baking show vowing to finally put my Kitchen aid mixer to use and master the culinary art of European pastries. It gave Trey and I some time to talk about the likelihood that if this did work out we would have a little girl. Not surprisingly, it didn’t take long to fall in love with the idea. Trey told me he’d teach her to ride a bike and write code and enjoy math. I said I’d teach her about the natural world and how to swim and play guitar. Really, we’d just let whoever we had be whoever they wanted to be.
When it came time to take the pregnancy test, I did the same thing I’d done almost every month for the past 3 years. I was a pro at this. Two lines for positive, 1 line for negative, give it a few minutes before reading.
We had completed the entire IVF process now and this was the closest we’d ever gotten to potentially having a little human of our own. It was a mixture of excitement, grounded in harsh reality. Nothing had worked in the past, we had to remind ourselves.
I sat on the edge of the bath tub staring down at my mismatched socks waiting for the test to complete. A couple minutes passed and I hesitantly glanced at the stick on the sink.
I didn’t want to tell Trey. I didn’t want to ruin his morning too. So I just sat back on the edge of the bath tub for a little while longer hoping another line would appear and it didn’t. I tried another test. Maybe the first one was a dud. I counted the days on my fingers. Maybe I tested too soon. 14 days. It should read accurate by now. I checked the expiration date on the box. 2020. FML. What if I’m doing this until 2020! I wish I could say I gracefully accepted our fate after that, but I didn’t. I was angry, the emotion I often tend to feel instead of sadness a lot of the time. And I dunno, sometimes screaming FUCK THIS SHIT FOREVER just feels a whole lot better than crying about things. Eventually I came out of the bathroom and told Trey. I called our nurse and told her too. She told me to come in for a blood test the next day to know for sure.
The next morning we went in to the IVF center and waited in the lobby for them to call my name. Trey and I told each other whatever happened, we were going on a vacation after this. Not a traveling trip where we go explore, but a full-on vacation – some resort with fruity drinks, a pool, and a beach to just lay around in the sun and veg out. We didn’t have to convince each other. All we both wanted at this point was to be on a beach somewhere, miles away from here. If I wasn’t pregnant, we said we’d go to Mexico (Zika). If I was pregnant, we told each other we’d go to Hawaii (no Zika).
The nurse called us back, gently tapped my vein with her finger and slid the needle into my arm, a sensation I had become all too familiar with. I un-clinched my fist, asked the nurse about her two twin boys, and watched the tube fill with blood. Trey sat across from me. I looked over at him and one corner of his mouth turned up into a half-smile. In my head I could hear him saying “almost done, baby”.
I haven’t done one of these in a while with everything going on, so I thought I’d share some photos of things around here. Thank you to everyone who has sent us good vibes and messages – we really appreciate that and will pay the kindness forward. It takes a while to write out, not to mention re-living it, but I’m working on it and will post more about the final stage of IVF soon. Here are a few photos from around here lately.
Mila the bird stalker looking out at the bird feeder.
We’ve been grilling a lot. I’ve been making lots of veggie burgers with thick slices of heirloom tomatoes. Right now I’m loving the beet burger from Roam…hoping to replicate it soon.
Keeper the greenhouse guardian.
Morning at our house. Smiley Jack.
Trey doing his thing.
I made the dogs some natural toothpaste this week. More on that later.
We have lots of bird feeders and houses in our back yard. Trey brought home a bird book the other day and we’ve been thumbing through it every time a new one shows up that we don’t recognize. We get mostly finches, robins, hummingbirds, and jays around here.
I’m not sure I was completely ready to do so when we did. I told everyone I was. Trey, Dr. Chet, my therapist, even myself – but on the inside I felt more like a zombie going through the motions, vaguely resembling something human on the outside. I was still bummed from the last time not working out, and I was hesitant to set us up for another let down.
We drove into the city on the morning of the egg retrieval surgery in early December. It was foggy and cold, a proper San Franciscan day. The office was on the top floor of a building off the Embarcadero, a street which sits right on the bay. The office had big windows that looked out at the bay and the boats docked off the pier with a great view of the Golden Gate bridge. I stood looking out for a while, too anxious to sit and flip through magazines. My life had changed so much in the past few years. On a day like today a few years ago I was out working in the Farallones marine sanctuary (an area of the Pacific beginning just outside the Golden Gate) when a pod of 50 or so huge, mottled Risso’s dolphins appeared out of the fog around our boat. Later that day we had a similar encounter with a pod of humpback whales lunge feeding. We were in rough water with 12 ft waves about 20 miles off the coast and the visibility wasn’t great but none of us wanted to call it a day. It was one of those days when you couldn’t feel the cold with all the adrenaline running through your body.
The nurse called my name, snapping me back to my current situation. She led us back, put an IV in my arm and an anesthesiologist came and spoke to me for a little while to make sure he got the anesthesia right while I signed the various medical history forms.
Once I was put under, the retrieval took less than 30 minutes and was successful. I asked Trey if he would recount this next part of this since it’s a bit embarrassing for me to do so myself.
Trey: After just enough time to make a cup of tea and reach the
end of my Instagram feed, a nurse opened the door to the
waiting room to let me know I could come back in. As I
approached her she assured me that everything went absolutely
fine, but that “she was pretty emotional, like… crying a lot”
I came back to find Nicole red-faced, tears running down her
face, dazed but assuring me “I’m fine, I’m fine.” She couldn’t
really explain much of anything at this point, about why she
was upset, nor was she able to recall even going into the surgery
room, or why she had asked everyone involved in the procedure
for a hug afterwards. Everyone was really sweet to her.
Apparently Nicole can be *really* sweet to strangers too,
especially when you heavily sedate her.
So, anesthesia can make you do silly things. The anesthesiologist (who I also asked for a hug, apparently) told me afterwards that sometimes when you have pent up emotions they come out when you’re waking up from the anesthesia and your inhibitions are lowered. Made sense, this was an emotional process. So, 1 bag of teddy grams, a cup of apple juice, and many hugs later and we were ready to go home. Dr. Chet told me to get some rest and that he would be in contact with more information about the eggs that were retrieved soon.
Now that the eggs had been retrieved, they needed to go to the lab to be fertilized w/ Trey’s sperm and cultured out (grown) in a dish for 5 days before being biopsied for any genetic abnormalities and then frozen to await transfer.
The next day, Dr. Chet called to give us an update. He told us 14 eggs had been retrieved, which was a good number. But then he told us that only 7 of those eggs were mature, which was abnormal given my age and having been on heavy stimulation drugs for 14 days. He thought almost all, if not all, the eggs would have been mature. 50% of eggs not reaching maturation was a possible indication of why I was experiencing infertility in the first place, although the process would have to be repeated in the future to really know if that was the case. Over the next few days he called us several times to give us updates about the remaining 7 eggs and how they were faring.
Of the 7 fertilized eggs, only 4 were normal after genetic testing (meaning no chromosomal abnormalities) and made it to day 5 to be frozen. In a week, we had gone from 14 eggs down to 4.
By now, I had been off the stimulation medications for about a week. Going off the medications again wasn’t fun. Throwing your hormones into fifth gear and then slamming on the brakes does a host of weird things to your body. Hot flashes, acne, nausea, exhaustion, blurry vision, moodiness, you name it. It’s not a walk in the park.
Enter: this post, where I had it up to my eyeballs with infertility and decided to finally write about it.
One of the really sucky things about infertility is you never feel like you’re in control of anything – your body, getting pregnant, the process – all of it. And then with IVF, you turn yourself over to doctors and it very much feels like everything is out of your hands. Your hormones are being manipulated with drugs, you’re being poked and prodded with needles, vaginal ultrasounds, blood draws, IVs, put under anesthesia, etc.
One of the ways you do get to have some control in the matter is by having the ability to choose whether or not you want to find out the gender of your embryos. If you do, you can choose whether you want to transfer in a male embryo or a female embryo or both (given you have both female and male embryos and don’t mind the chance of twins).
We elected to know the genders. Dr. Chet called us when the lab confirmed them.
Had this have been a normal getting-pregnant experience, we wouldn’t have had a particularly strong preference over girl or boy. Either would have been a happy, random surprise. But, going into this we had a long time to think about whether or not we wanted to transfer in a boy embryo or a girl embryo. We knew IVF would allow us to know, and given the chance to choose, we both really wanted a boy.
The next time we spoke with Dr. Chet he told us that of the 4 embryos, 3 were female and 1 was male.
He asked us which embryo we wanted to transfer in and without any hesitation we told him, “the boy”. It made sense for us, there was only one male embryo. We had plenty of female embryos to keep frozen for the future if we wanted more kids. We were really excited. This was what we had been waiting for and everything was starting to feel like it was falling into place.
Dr. Chet told us he would instruct the lab and a few days later called to give us our embryo transfer date: January 5th, 2017.
The weeks leading up to the transfer were intense. It was end of December now and we were spending the holidays just the two of us since traveling with the medications seemed too difficult. I was on a lot of injections again, new ones this time to prep for the transfer. Plus, it’s not like you can be totally cavalier when you’re scheduled to go get a baby put inside you. Trey and I would lay in bed at night and talk about everything that was to come. Would the embryo transfer be successful? If it was, what would we name him? What would he be like? Would he look more like you (Trey) or me?
But then we’d remind ourselves to take things one day at a time.
Let’s get through the medications. Let’s get through the procedure. We told ourselves.
We sat in the waiting room of the IVF center waiting to meet Dr. Chet. Smooth jazz played overhead, a spread of celebrity magazines were fanned out on a coffee table in front of us. A large stone statue of a pregnant woman stood stoic in the corner. It was 9:00am on a Monday last summer.
Neither of us were entirely convinced we needed to be there. We were young and healthy. Surely the last 3 years had just been a rough patch of bad luck. Had it really come to this?
The nurse called my name and lead us back to Dr. Chet’s office. We walked in and were greeted by an older man with patchy gray hair sitting behind an old wooden desk. Degrees from Yale and other prestigious institutions flanked him on the wall above. In the corner of the room his computer screensaver played a photo collage of all the babies he had helped bring into the world on loop. We told him our history – that we met young, had been together for a long time and wanted to have kids. We said we had been trying for close to 3 years with ovulation predictor kits, Clomid and IUI procedures, but nothing had worked. I had no history of any endometriosis, ovarian cysts, or ovulation dysfunction that we knew of. Trey’s sperm (cue Magic Mike music) had been tested and were normal. I just wasn’t getting pregnant and we had no clue why.
They took my blood to measure my hormone levels and did an ultrasound to look at my ovaries. Not the cute belly ultrasounds. These are the ones where they stick a wand up your vagina. He sent me to a radiologist to get an HSG (hysterosalpingogram) done, which is an X-ray test where they inject a dye into your uterus and fallopian tubes via a thin catheter to see if there are any structural abnormalities. All in all, everything came back normal with the exception of my hormones being a little off. He talked to us about our options. Given the 3 years we had tried with ovulation predictor kits on our own, and the months on Clomid + IUIs we had already done, he put our chances at conceiving on our own as being pretty low. It was something we needed to hear. He was right and we knew it even if we didn’t want to believe it right then. Neither of us wanted to keep going down the road we were going on.
He told us we could spend months doing lesser-invasive treatments like injectable stimulation medications that may or may not work. Or, we could do IVF where the probability of me getting pregnant was more likely. IVF (In Vitro Fertilization) is when an egg is fertilized by sperm outside of the body. Medications are used to stimulate the ovaries into producing lots of eggs, which are then surgically retrieved, fertilized using sperm, and then transferred into the uterus (or frozen and transferred later).
He told us the costs for both options. We sat with the numbers for a while and told him we’d get back to him about where we wanted to go from there. We went home and tried for two more months on our own and got nowhere.
It was the beginning of September 2016 when we scheduled the appointment to tell Dr. Chet we wanted to go through IVF. Given that months on Clomid (a stimulation medication) + IUIs didn’t work in the past, we decided we didn’t want to waste our time trying the injectable stimulation medications and wanted to proceed directly to IVF. Dr. Chet gave me a prescription for an oral birth control medication to take that would balance my hormones and put them in a good place to start the IVF medications. The nurse worked with us to find a pharmacy that gave us an amazing deal on the medications through manufacturers coupons, insurance, and some publicly-available fertility medication discounts programs. A big cost in IVF are the medications, so we were really fortunate to be able to find affordable solutions.
A couple weeks later the medications arrived on our doorstep in a over-nighted refrigerated Fed-Ex box. I took the medications and spread them out on the kitchen counter. Small gauged needles, larger gauged needles, syringes, vials of thick fluids. Trey and I couldn’t believe the amount of medication that was involved.
IVF is done in 3 stages: Stimulation, Egg retrieval, and Embryo Transfer.
For this first stage, the stimulation phase, I would be using medications that would stimulate my ovaries into producing lots of follicles, which would house eggs to be retrieved. The medications were self-administered injections in the abdomen every morning and night. The medications used were identical vials containing hCG #1 (to be taken daily) and hCG #2 (to be used only on the last day of stimulation), Gonal-F, Cetrotide, and an oral medication, Medrol. My blood was tested every other day for the 12-14 day stimulation period and I had daily ultrasounds to measure the follicles in my ovaries. When the follicles reached a size that would likely yield mature eggs, I was instructed to inject the “trigger shot”, hCG #2, which would tell my body to stop stimulating the follicles in my ovaries for preparation for ovulation (release of eggs), and egg retrieval in my case.
Everything went smoothly. The injections weren’t that bad. The needles were relatively small and thinly gauged and if I pinched my belly fat and injected on those parts I could barely even feel them. Sometimes the needle wouldn’t go in easy and it would leave a bruise, or bleed….but for the most part they were okay if I got a clean stick. Trey and I got into a good routine. He would set out the syringes, vials, alcohol wipes, etc in the morning and I would then come and measure out the medications before self-administering the injections. Then we would leave to go to the IVF center for blood work and ultrasound. It ended up being around 50-60 injections and sticks for the stimulation phase including the blood draws. The medications made me feel oddly good physically at first. I think I was feeling good because of the hormones, but mostly it was excitement that this might actually be happening for us soon (!).
We got to day 12 of the stimulation phase and were in a bit of a rush getting out of the door. Our routine was off that day and I had to get the syringes and vials prepared myself, then measure out the meds to be injected. We got to the appointment and after the ultrasound Dr. Chet told me the follicles were large enough in my ovaries to likely yield a lot of eggs. So he told me in the next day he would call to tell me the time (everything in this process is done on a timed schedule) to inject the trigger shot, hCG #2.
It was then when I realized my mistake. In our rush that morning, I had injected the wrong hCG medication. I had already given myself the trigger shot (hCG #2) unknowingly and my body was now preparing to ovulate. I had grabbed the wrong identical looking hCG vial from the refrigerator. Dr. Chet and the nurse told us that that meant I wouldn’t be able to go through the egg retrieval surgery this go around, but instead we would need to try to save this cycle by going home and having lots of intercourse over the next 24-48 hours. Intercourse. Because that’s what it was. Shirts on, scheduled, intercourse.
At the time I felt like a massive failure. On top of my body already failing me, I had just unknowingly sabotaged our IVF efforts. I was really hard on myself. We had gone all the way through the stimulation phase, I had injected up to 4 medications into my abdomen a day, and at the very last moment accidentally triggered my body to ovulate too soon. I was mad. I don’t make mistakes like this. I’m the girl who worked in genetics labs all throughout college and grad school and knew the precautions necessary to minimize errors. But I did make the mistake. The difference this time being it was with my own body and I was the experiment. There would be no egg retrieval, not this time. I did what any self-loathing person would do – went to Taco Bell drive-thru and screamed into a plate of Nachos Bel Grande in my car in the parking lot with the windows up. Trey was there, he screamed too (not at me, at the nachos).
In the end, like a lot of errors, it turned out to not be that big of a deal. One of our nurses put it in perspective for us – we ended up doing what a lot of couples do, which is try the stimulation meds first to see if that alone would work. If it did, we would save thousands of dollars on medications and procedures and not have to go through the IVF process. So we did what the doctor told us to do and went home to, in the words of Marvin Gaye, get it on.
At each stage of treatment for infertility, you think you’re getting closer to actually getting pregnant, so naturally you get kinda excited. I remember the first few times I used an ovulation predictor kit I thought “alright, it’s really going to happen”. Then with Clomid, I thought “this is going to work!”. Then with the months combining Clomid + IUIs I kept thinking “this time it’ll happen”. And now with the injectable stimulation drugs and knowing my body had the perfect mix of medications to put my hormones levels in the perfect place, I found myself again thinking – “oh man, soon!”.
But then the pregnancy test came back negative two weeks later. It was a big blow. In some ways it was good affirmation that IVF was the route we needed to be going down, but it was also a set back because I was again – not pregnant. After 30+ months of negative pregnancy tests over the course of close to 3 years, that excitement I felt finally went away. I didn’t want it to, but it was like I didn’t have a choice in the matter anymore. I couldn’t bring myself to get my spirits up again because I didn’t want another monumental crash afterwards. In it’s place came a dark, callousness. I felt a big part of me change in the months that followed.
Dr. Chet told us my body needed time to rest and let things go back to normal before we could try again with the stimulation drugs. If you use stimulation drugs too frequently, it can lead to cysts and excess fluid in your abdomen. Coming down off the drugs was hard, worse than Clomid. I had headaches and mood swings. I had put work on hold at this point and found it hard to find the motivation to get out of bed. I wasn’t feeling much like myself. I told Dr. Chet how I was feeling and he referred me to a therapist who had been through IVF herself. I started meeting with her once a week. I was emotionally exhausted in a way I had never been before. I stopped going out and doing things with friends. I’ve always been introverted, but this took it to a new level. I wasn’t leaving the house or talking to anyone. I’ve never been the type to look to others for help. I’ve talked about my childhood here before some, and… self-reliance was something I learned from a young age. I didn’t know how to seek support from others because I had never really been in a situation where I felt like I couldn’t handle it on my own. I always dealt with things myself or with Trey. I didn’t know how to write about it here. I definitely didn’t want it to look like I was writing about it for the wrong reasons. So, I took some time to devote to therapy and swimming and getting myself in a better place to start over with treatment.
When it came time to decide whether or not we were going to try again with IVF this year (2016), I had mixed emotions. We had come so far in the past few years, and it felt like we were getting closer, but I didn’t want to go through another let down if it didn’t work out. It was early November, 2016. The therapy had helped some, I was feeling better physically, and was starting to feel like I was getting back to being myself. I had told myself I had one last treatment in me for this year and then I was going to take a break and travel if it didn’t work out. I imagined laying on a beach somewhere, or renting a loft in Mexico City to write for a few weeks.
Trey asked what I wanted to do. He told me it was my body and there was no pressure. Trey is the best partner on the planet for me. Throughout all of this, and everything to come, he would never miss an appointment, blood draw, or ultrasound. He also is really funny and knows how to make any situation lighter, like making origami cranes for me while I’m getting my blood drawn.
I thought about it for a little while, then looked over at him and said confidently, “Yes. Let’s try this again”.
Oh puppies. Nature’s anti-depressant. Is there anything better? They are sweet and soft and grow into these rambunctious, intelligent little gremlins with so much energy. It’s hard not to smile when you’re around them.
I was surprised at how interested people were in how we were raising puppies this small. One of my friends described it to me like this – newborn puppies are a “black box” a lot of dog lovers often never get to see. Unless your dog gets pregnant, you work in animal care, or you foster a pregnant dog like we did, most puppies tend to be seen at later life stages. The average age for a puppy to be adopted (or bought from a breeder, boo) is around 8-10 weeks. There’s a lot that happens in the early stages, so I’m happy to share our experience.
As you know, we thought since we were staying home for the holidays this past year it would be fun to have some extra happiness around by taking in a foster dog from The Milo Foundation (the same rescue we got Jack from). I picked up a very pregnant cattle dog named Whiskey the day before Thanksgiving and she and her puppies would end up bringing the total number of animals in our house to 10: 3 dogs, 6 puppies, and 1 cat. Why not.
Whiskey had the puppies at night a few days after she had settled in. She was pacing around and panting and displaying all the usual signs of an uncomfortable animal in labor. She climbed into the box we had put in the sunroom for her and had the puppies one by one into the night. She knew what to do. All animals do, including us. I think we tend to forget that thanks to movies and tv sensationalizing every labor to seem like an out of control emergency situation. I played doggie doula for a while as she gave birth to 1 puppy every 12-15 minutes or so, then I went to sleep around 2 am. There were 4 puppies.
In the morning I went in to check on her and the puppies and found that she had had 2 more puppies since I had last checked on her. What a sweet surprise! They still had parts of their umbilical cords attached. Puppies come out of their mother in their amniotic sac, which the mama dog chews through to get to the puppy, then she chews off their umbilical cord and later delivers and eats the placenta. I’m glad humans don’t have to do that.
There were 6 puppies in total – 3 girls and 3 boys. I grabbed an old lab notebook and flipped the page over from a Chelonia mydas (green sea turtle) necropsy analysis I performed in the Bahamas, to a blank sheet where I wrote down some basic distinguishing characteristics about each puppy and whether they were male or female. I haven’t been in a lab in over 2 years now, so I made the sunroom into one just for kicks – complete with an observation book, scale, and medications for Whiskey. Whiskey still had (what we think was) bordetella at this point which made her particularly wheezy and phlegmy with hacky coughs so I monitored her breathing for a little while. She received the medication late, and being that it is contagious, I looked for signs (coughing/sneezing) that the puppies may have gotten it too. Luckily they didn’t and Whiskey recovered quickly after a couple days on a broad spectrum antibiotic.
The first few weeks with puppies is really easy if you’re a human. The mama dog does everything. Whiskey was happy to rest and nurse and take care of her puppies. It’s really important to make sure your mama dog has lots of food and water since nursing requires extra calories and can lead to dehydration more easily. I fed her 3x a day, one more feeding than usual, with more in quantity and treats in between meals.
The puppies are pretty much immobile for the first 2 weeks. Their eyes are closed and ears sealed. They just sleep, eat, and poop/pee (with the help of their mom who licks them to stimulate elimination, then eats it….again, another thing I’m happy humans don’t have to do with their young). Puppies this young are more susceptible to cold so I made sure to put warm blankets in the box and a space heater in the sunroom so it stayed at a cozy 75-78 degrees or so.
By the 3rd week, their eyes were open and they were crawling around the box and it was all kinds of cute. I weighed them every morning to make sure everyone was gaining weight properly. Around the end of week 4 Whiskey decided she was done being available to the puppies to nurse on whenever they wanted (can’t blame her). She wanted to be outside exploring with Jack and Keeper, so I opened the doggie door that links the sunroom to the back yard so she could come and go whenever she wanted. She would come in and check on them and knew when she needed to nurse instinctively. Animals are awesome. By this time the puppies were standing/wobbling and starting to interact with one another. I added a few small toys to their box for them to gnaw on and paw at.
They had picked up nicknames now, apart from WM1, WM2 (white male 1, white male 2, etc.) that I had been referring to them as in my notes. Now they were:
Tux - the curious black and white male who looked like he was wearing a tuxedo. Cherry – the cute tri-color female runt (named after Trey’s fav flavor of the candy runts). Grandpa Polar Bear – the sweet white male who looked like a polar bear and was chill like a grandpa. Wags – the adorable black female with white paws, named after how much she wagged her tail when picked up. Patch – the charming white male with a black patch on his eye. Dottie – the sweet white female with dots on her fur.
By the end of week 5, I started making them a gruel – which is dry puppy food softened with warm water or chicken broth, mashed up. With them getting bigger (with teeth) and Whiskey wanting to spend more time away from nursing (re: teeth), I followed Whiskey’s lead and started transitioning them to the gruel. Whiskey would still sleep with them at night and nurse for another couple weeks after this, which was especially good for the little runt Cherry who needed all the extra feedings she could get.
The puppies really grew over weeks 6, 7 and 8. Their personalities all became very distinct and they were running and jumping on each other and playing with toys. These weeks are fun to watch because they are really socializing with each other and start assessing their rank in the litter by growling and wrestling with one another. I started cutting back the water I was adding to soften their food so they could transition slowly to eating dry, solid food. I added a weighted water bowl in the corner of the pen for them to drink from. Tux figured out how to get out of the box first. He’s was a smart one, that guy. We were sitting in the living room and all of a sudden he comes waltzing in like, hey man! The others followed shortly after.
We replaced the box with a wire pen we had from when Keeper was a puppy and put fresh newspaper down before every meal since now it was our job to clean that up. We used a muffin pan to feed them 3x a day since it had 6 little compartments and we had 6 little puppies. By this time (beginning of week 7), Whiskey was completely done nursing even at night. She slept nights with Jack and Keep instead of being in the sunroom. The puppies quickly learned the routine and started letting us know around feeding time that they were hungry by “barking” (it’s really like puppies squawking at you). Their feeding schedule at 8 weeks was 7am, noon, and 6pm. Water was free range.
Week 9 and Adoptions
Week 9 was for shots, deworming, and spaying/neutering (Whiskey too). We gave everyone a bath, then loaded them up in the back of the Land cruiser and dropped them off at the vet. Afterwards they rested/recovered at Milo to get ready for the adoption event that weekend.
By the end of the weekend, 3 of the puppies and Whiskey had found homes. It was bittersweet saying goodbye to them. But that’s the deal. You bring them in, help them out, then send them on their way. Meeting the families who were adopting was really special. I don’t think I could hide the happiness I felt even if I tried. I remember meeting the couple who fostered Jack the day we showed up to adopt him from Milo 7 years ago. To do that for someone else just feels good. The other 3 puppies were adopted soon after. I only managed to get photos of some of the families, but here they are:
Little Cherry (now Pua) was adopted by a sweet family in San Francisco.
The dad wrote to me – “My wife is from Hawaii and we always talked about getting a “Poi dog”, a mixed race dog that also represents our mix race family, Japanese/European. We named her Pua which means flower.”
Tux was adopted by a great family with lots of land just outside San Francisco.
The guy holding him was so stoked and told us a lot about how much he loved (and missed) his last cattle mix dog. They sent us an email shortly after saying Tux was already adjusting well to his new pack. Tux was Trey’s favorite, so it was particularly great for him to see a rad guy who really wanted to train a smart pup ending up adopting Tux.
Grandpa Polar Bear (now Pete) went to my friend and former biologist colleague, Natalie.
She drove down from just outside Portland to meet him and I’m glad it was a match. I met her parents (and their dog, Carl!) too. I’m so happy he went to someone I know. He was definitely my favorite of the litter (though I shouldn’t have one!) and it’s really awesome to see him show up in my Instagram feed from time to time.
Whiskey (now Annie) was adopted by a family with 3 kids and 5 acres of land in Washington state.
Whiskey was so special to us. As you know, when I picked her up she was super pregnant, had this nasty respiratory infection, and wasn’t sure whether or not to trust us. She wasn’t house trained, knew no commands. By the end of the few months we had her she was sleeping in the bed with us and so affectionate. She raised 6 adorable pups and in the process (I hope) learned to trust a couple of humans. She morphed from a timid and frightened dog into a happy, sweet one. It was hard to uproot her again from the routine she had come to know with us, but we knew finding her a forever home was what was best. The family came down and spent some time with her and decided they wanted to adopt her. It’s the perfect home for her, one where she gets a lot of love and attention and we couldn’t be happier for her and her new family. Driving home with an empty truck I couldn’t help but hope she was doing okay. Just a few minutes after thinking that, the mom texted me this photo:
If you’ve ever thought about fostering a dog or cat, I can’t recommend it enough. It’s important to make sure you have the time, space, and right living situation to make for a comfortable experience for everyone involved. If fostering seems like too much to take on, there are lots of other ways to help out shelter animals. You can volunteer to walk dogs, donate money or high quality food, or even offer your skills such as photography by coming in once or twice a month to take photos of new dogs/cats for the website pro-bono. A great way to start is by calling your local rescue organization and asking them what supplies or services they are in need of at the moment and how best you can help.
There I sat in my OBGYN’s office. Assless paper robe on, legs in stirrups, vagina mural on the wall next to me. My eyes searched for patterns in the drop tile ceiling above me, trying to pretend someone’s face wasn’t in my vagina. I broke the silence, effortlessly segueing from our small talk about the rain we were having, to launching full-on into how I had basically been standing on my head for the last year trying to fornicate a love child with my boyfriend and thought it would have happened by now. I sat up on my elbows to see her reaction. We stared at each other. I hadn’t told anyone at that point that I was considering pregnancy. I was young by California standards. 28 in the Bay Area is hosting your first dinner party, staying above a 4 star Uber rating, and finally getting into the swing of a vitamin regime. She was cool about it. I could tell by her nose ring and avante-garde bangs that we’d probably be friends if she didn’t know my cervix so intimately. She gave me some good advice: use an ovulation predictor kit, do some yoga, and relax. I went home and relayed the pep talk to Trey: it’ll happen, don’t stress. I ordered some predictor kits off Amazon and started using them.
The conversation never really happened. It wasn’t like we allotted a time and place in our schedules to sit down and talk babies. It was late, we were two bloody marys deep on a plane back from Barcelona, writing back and forth on the notes app on my phone to not disturb the person next to us. A young French couple around our age sat across the aisle from us, cute dark-haired baby sprawled across both their laps sleeping. The woman was perfectly undone, with that kind of French girl je nuis se quoi that American girls write books about. The guy had long hair, a five o clock shadow and tattoos. I took out my phone and wrote:
That was it, that was when we decided sometime in our near future we wanted to combine powers and create a gourd sized suspiciously alien looking miniature humanoid to raise together. And it was fun, really fun. It’s like all of a sudden you’ve got all this intent behind everything you do. Everything is electric. What gusto! Every night is a performance! Encore that shit, we’re prevailing our species here. We’d time our travels to sync up with ovulation so we were basically going on sex trips. Which sounds as psychedelically erotic as it was back then. It was the Summer of Love. Maybe we’d have some story to tell our kid about how they came to be along the Yucatan Peninsula somewhere, or on the beach in Costa Rica, or in that artist’s loft in Ravello, Italy overlooking the Tyrrhenian sea. Those were good times. The future was an exciting unknown and we were just along for the ride. Whatever happened, happened….like everything had in our lives leading up to that point.
8 months later I was back in my OBGYN’s office staring at the same drop tile ceiling again. This time it was for an IUI, a procedure where they insert sperm into your uterus via a thin catheter. I had been put on Clomid, a fertility medication that stimulates follicles in your ovaries to produce a “super” ovulation. Really it’s a bitch drug that makes you feel like crying into your bowl of oatmeal while simultaneously wanting to throw a chair at someone’s head.
The following is a list of things that made me emotional while on Clomid:
1. Seeing a photo of a spider nebula from the hubble space telescope
2. Thinking there was a leftover bean and cheese burrito in the fridge when there wasn’t
4. Cutting my bangs too short
5. Missing the train and somehow forgetting another one comes in 15 minutes
She cranked the speculum, clamped my cervix open, and inserted the catheter into my uterus. Catheters are not your friends. They are those bitches who act like your friends but really have it out for you. A few minutes later, she took her gloves off. “There.” she said confidently, signaling to me that I could put my legs down. “Hopefully I just got you pregnant”. I went home feeling like a new woman. This was it, I thought.
It wasn’t. After a few months on Clomid and failed IUIs, my OBGYN referred me to an IVF doctor. I had now officially graduated from the minor leagues of infertility to the major leagues and needed a more experienced coach: a Russian infertility specialist doctor in his 70s who we’ll call Dr. Chet for the sake of anonymity and also because his name is really hard to pronounce.
And that’s when it all began…my experience with IVF treatment.
(I’m posting my writings after having gone through 8 months of treatments and 3 years of infertility. These are the posts I wrote while going through it. I will continue to post them until I work up to present day).
If you follow me on Instagram, you might have seen the animal roommates that have been living with us for the past two months. A young female cattle dog we call Whiskey, and her six puppies.
Trey saw the posting on the Milo Foundation‘s Facebook page (the same rescue where we got Jack). We were eating dinner and he said “ok, the answer is NO but, did you see Milo’s post on Facebook today?“. I hadn’t. I opted out of having a personal Facebook a while ago. Trey leaned over and showed me the posting. It read: “Very pregnant sweet but a bit afraid (understandably) cattle dog at the Martinez shelter… Needs a foster home. Any takers?!?!” Then I made some unintelligible noise and Trey caved and a couple days later we went and got her.
We have fostered before, mostly dogs, puppies, and kittens whenever we have the space and time to do so. I’ve been rehabbing animals since I was a kid. Injured birds, baby squirrels that fell out of trees, turtle with a cracked shell, bullfrog missing a leg, pony getting picked on by one the bigger horses at a farm down the road, kitten orphaned in a hurricane, too many dogs on the side of the road to count. When I moved to the West coast, I tube-fed seal and sea lion pups at a marine mammal rescue center and released them into the waves on foggy beaches. Eventually I worked in marine animal health with dolphins and whales. We don’t foster to keep. It’s awesome to help animals out and then send them on their way. Growing up, my mom would look at me and ask “Are you ok?” whenever I’d bring a new animal home to nurse back to health. Like there was something wrong with me for actually wanting to help animals. Who’s the weird one now, MOM! I digress.
I picked up Whiskey a few days before Thanksgiving. She waddled over to me like a Komodo dragon with her blocky little head, squatty legs, big belly and nervous “smile”. On the ride home, I rolled the car window down and she just sat there staring out into the great unknown like “whattt is thiss?!”. I don’t think she had spent much time (if any) in a car before. She looked a bit dazed and excited all at the same time. She’s smiling, but that’s probably just the “nervous pants”. Dogs don’t sweat through their skin like we do, so they regulate their body temperature (like if they were, say, pregnant and stressed) through panting.
When we arrived home, I gave her the antibiotics she had been prescribed for a nasty respiratory infection (“kennel cough”), and let her rest in a dog bed in our bedroom. She was very sweet, but timid at first and didn’t seem to know whether to trust me fully or not. Later when she woke up, I fed her some chicken nuggets. If you want to be a pregnant rescue dog’s best friend, feed her chicken nuggets. I think these were genuine happy smiles.
Then she met Jack and Keeper who were playing down in the woods outside. They all did the inquisitive low tail wag, a sign of being unsure. Then came a snarl from Jack and a growl from Keeper. Dogs are funny like that, especially herding breeds. They all start evaluating who’s in charge and assess their ranking to see how the new member of the “pack” fits in. After Whiskey backed away to show them they had the higher ground, they all headed off to sniff and roam around the yard together. Later, I raised my hand to throw a ball Keeper had brought me and Whiskey cowered, tucked her tail and ran back inside to her bed in the bedroom. She had no idea what I was doing and it scared her. Rescue dogs come from situations that are not ideal a lot of the time, so it’s good to always look for signs of situations that might distress them. Every sign of fear or anger is a clue that gives you more insight into what they might have been through and why they are behaving the way they are.
Over the next few days we discovered more about her. She didn’t know any commands and wasn’t house trained, leading us to believe she had probably never lived with humans before, especially indoors. Maybe she was a working dog that herded cattle and roamed off? Maybe she was the runt (she’s a petite cattle dog, only 30 lbs) that no one wanted? Who knows, but out of all the behavioral issues that foster dogs can come with, these are two of the most basic and easy to train. The only thing was, she was super pregnant so her mind and body were concentrated on other things. We had to be sensitive to that and decided to devote more time to training her after she had the puppies.
On the third day of having her, we were all watching a movie in the living room and I noticed her starting to pace around. She was panting and trying to make a bed in the corner of the living room, so I knew it was almost time for the puppies to be here. I got some cardboard boxes we had leftover from moving in and Trey taped them together to make a large, shallow box for her. We put it in the sunroom, along with a few towels and a little space heater in the corner. Then we showed Whiskey the room. Around an hour later, she left the living room and Komodo dragon-waddled into the sunroom, crawled right in the box, and had the puppies!
I know you guys can’t wait to hear about the puppies, so I’ll do some more posts devoted entirely to them soon. Raising puppies is really fun. They are cute and are a constant source of entertainment.
But for now, I just wanted to write about Whiskey. She has been the best foster dog ever. It’s so rewarding to watch her progress every day. Since coming to us, she’s gotten over her respiratory infection, raised her six puppies, learned to “sit” and “stay” before her meal, and to “give paw” for a treat. She’s completely house-trained now and knows to tell us when she needs to go outside. She runs in the woods with Jack and Keeper (with no snarling or growling), and every night climbs in the bed to sleep next to us (but not before giving big, slobbery kisses first). Yesterday I took her in to the vet to be spayed so she won’t have to worry about having any more puppies and can focus on being a young dog herself now (she’s only a year and 1/2!). Milo is already taking applications for her and working to find the right person/family that can give her a lot of love.