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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Escape Routes

As I was crossing the 4.3 miles of the Bay Bridge, doing my deep breathing exercises and trying to unclench my hands from time to time to keep them from becoming permanently gripped to the steering wheel (thank you, adrenaline-induced strength), I learned a little bit about myself. Something along the lines of an After School Special on understanding and overcoming fear. Making my trip from Rehoboth back to D.C. one to grow on.

I operate best with an escape route.

While I enjoy the idea of carpools, I'm not really into participating unless I am the driver. I like knowing that I could leave at any point--that it's firmly in my control. Back in graduate school, as I was sulking one night in my dorm room (why oh why did I agree to the graduate dorms that first year?), my friends talked me into going out to the usual Thursday night bar extravaganza at the local VFW. The promise was that the moment I wanted to go home, they would drive me back.

One drink and a game of pool later and I was ready to leave, but they continued their conversations and held me off with "just another minute, Mel" and "we just got here!" Being car-less and stuck in Northampton made me feel a bit like a wild animal. I ended up slipping out of the bar and walking several blocks to catch one of three buses that took me close enough to the dorms. An hour and a half later, I was back in my dorm room, only a few miles from the VFW, but finally breathing easily. I hate being stuck.

My fears of flying, my fears of bridges, my fears of tight-confined spaces, they're all fears shared by many other people. And the commonality between all of these fears is not only the relinquishment of control ( do you relinquish control with a bridge? Or a tight-space? Can you just run with me and not look too closely at the argument?), but the lack of an easy escape.

Once that plane is in the air, a passenger can't really call out, "I've changed my mind. This is freaking me out. I really want to get off." I mean, I have called this out before, but it doesn't do anything. You're at the mercy of the flight time. Once you're on the bridge, you can't stop the car and get out of your vehicle until you're on the other side. And while people rarely think about this as they're passing over a wimpy span like the Delaware Memorial Bridge, you have a lot of time to think about the fact that you're stuck hundreds of feet above the water when you're on the Bay Bridge for five minutes minimum sans traffic. Being tied down, being held down, being confined--these are all things I avoid because they tie into that same base fear, the lack of an easy escape route. I am also not a fan of roller coasters (again, I can't stop the ride and get off). And not just for the drops, loops, and general queasiness-inducing motions of a roller coaster. I like control. And not just control. I like having my own personal stop button.

Sometimes, when people are talking about a next step with treatments or paths to parenthood, they feel the need to qualify it with "but this doesn't mean that I don't have hope for X working." You must have a smidgen of hope--if not, why would you put yourself through it? But I think it's sensible to have an escape plan. An escape plan is not just a stop button; it's a segue into the next step, the next path, the next action. It's stopping doing X and starting doing Y. Having an escape plan doesn't mean that you don't like where you are or what you're doing. You just need to know the location of the door so you could leave at any time, therefore making it more enticing to stay. Does that make any sense?

I don't think I would freak out so badly on the Bay Bridge if there was a button I could push and teleport off the bridge if the panic became unbearable. Just knowing there was something I could do would ensure that I felt comfortable.

Which brings us back to infertility and not just the idea of an escape plan for a current treatment (knowing which protocol you're trying next, for example. Or knowing you're doing another FET cycle immediately afterwards if this one doesn't work), but an escape from trying in general.

I don't currently have an escape plan.

I am meandering. I am trying things and thinking through possibilities and I have a general sketch of what will happen here or there. But Josh asked me a few weeks ago, "what will you do if we never have a third child?" and I didn't have an answer. I just cried. And on the Bay Bridge, I realized that my discomfort in general is the lack of an escape route. What if there isn't a third child? What if at the end of all of this, treatments don't work again? Do we walk towards donor egg or adoption? Or close the door on trying for a third at all?

There's a danger in setting up walls because those are meant to keep you in. Limits cause more panic--the internal promise, for example, that this is the final IVF attempt. But escape routes are small windows towards someplace better. Where limits bring about second-guessing, escape routes bring about relief. The relief may be mixed with other emotions--guilt, sadness, longing--but it is relief nonetheless.

And here is the difference. Walls have limits and negatives built into the phrasing: "I will never..." or "we will stop..." or "we can't do..." whereas escape routes follow an if/then formation. "If the RE thinks I have a low chance of conceiving with my eggs, then I will start with donor eggs." The only problem is setting up escape routes that seem unappealing. The other problem is that things sometimes don't look appealing until you've been forced to look at them from a different angle.

At this point, I haven't really put up walls--I mean, I have general limits for myself that are conducive to our financial situation or emotional capital--but I also haven't set up an escape route. And not knowing how I can get off this ride is like traveling over the Bay Bridge, the water lapping below and my hands fearfully gripping the wheel.

Do you have walls or escape routes? If you have an escape route, when did it occur to you and how did you plan it?


Jess said...

I hadn't really thought of it much except from an OCD sort of way with myself...but this post is TOTALLY me, Mel.

The IF was always what the NEXT step would be for me. Where we would go IF something DIDN'T work. Not this cycle, not that cycle, but what our PLAN was. Even during a short break at the last we were working on adoption and had a follow-up with our RE scheduled. Then witht he IVF and the adoption and even though I'm pregnant I'm already in a state of panic half the time wondering if we are DONE at the age of freaking TWENTY THREE and TWENTY FIVE having kids....what to DO, what to DO...I feel like there HAS to be a plan for "after" even though in reality I can recognize that it's something we likely have to just wait and see about.

I hear you on the third child thing. I don't know what we will decide as far as continuing our family or not, but I do know that the thought of having all my kids all at once and age age 18...what do I do with myself for the rest of my life?

I'm a mother. That's the funny bit. I've never known what to do if I'm not a mother...which is why treatment always needed to be MOVING. Because if I couldn't be a mother, I was trapped. Which is why I'm already panicking that my kids will be grown and out of the house when I'm only 41 or 42.

Travis says to me..."but then what? We have one more? and they're all grown by 43? How is that better?"...and then I just keep panicking. Men are so helpful, no?

I hope you get that third child soon, Mel. No answers for you, really...just hope. :)

Jess said...

Although, rereading that I realize that my panic in pregnancy is also that I'm not in control. Something could go wrong ANY TIME and I couldn't do a thing about it mostly. Scary. Almost as scary as never being pregnant again is being pregnant again. At least right now.

Damned if you do, and damned if you don't, eh?

Fertilize Me said...

I have tried and tried to plan escape routes - then convert them to walls, then convert them back to escape routes. They change as time goes by and I am very wishy-washy about the whole process. I guess for me, I try to envision life w/o children and always come to the conclusion of that is just NOT an option for me to be able to live with

Samantha said...

I have started to face the fact that I might not get pregnant, and have been thinking about it all summer. I don't know if I would call it an escape route or not, but I feel more comfortable with the idea of moving on to adoption if treatment fails. I also know that it's going to be a really rough road if treatment does fail. To use your bridge analogy, I think it will be as you were stuck on the Oakland Bay Bridge, and you escape route is to make the bridge collapse. Yeah, you'll be off the bridge, but in the process you'll lose your car, risk your life, and have to swim to safety. After that, I'll probably start to feel better, but I don't see any "easy" escape routes.

serenity said...

I've always had escape routes. With every single cycle I did, before I got the beta result, I had a plan for what would happen if what I thought would happen did.

The only time I didn't have a concrete plan was for this last cycle. I decided to just see what happened and make the decision on what we'd do if it didn't work later. And good grief, it was scary when I was going through it.

But I knew that eventually I'd have some sort of decision and plan. The big picture was that I wouldn't rest until I was a mom, even if it took me the rest of my life.

In a lot of ways, my struggle was easier than yours. Because I didn't have a child and I wanted to be a mother, however that happened. And that's what kept me from making an escape route out of TTC and infertility. I never considered a life without children an option for me. It was clear to me.

If we're lucky enough and this pregnancy turns into a real baby, well, then things will get a lot more murky. At what point am I comfortable sacrificing mine and my child's emotional health (because s/he will KNOW mommy's sad about something) for another child? When will enough be enough?

THAT I am not sure. I, again, am tabling that decision until I'm in the situation - allowing for my feelings to change.

You told me, early on, drawing lines in the sand needs to be just that - drawing a line NOW so I have that structure of an escape route, but adjusting to what happens in the future, because how can I possibly know now what I will feel like in 2 years?

And I also get the sense that the escape route from trying in general becomes clear to you at some point in your journey. Because I do know that, if this IVF hadn't worked, I would have been very close to calling it quits. Certainly I was a lot more close to walking away from it all this past cycle than I was back before we had even tried IVF #1.

Course, this probably doesn't really help you make an escape plan. But it's my thoughts, anyway.

katarinajellybeana said...

The only escape route I have is that I can walk away at any time.

Mr. Jelly Beana and I have set up our finances so that one of us can quit at the drop of a hat. Why? So neither of us feels trapped.

It reminds us we have choices, every day. I can choose to get up, stay married, go to work, walk the dog. Or I can choose to file for divorce, quit my job, let the dog pee on the floor. Those don't sound like good options to me so I stick with what I've got.

The most freeing thing I know is that I can walk away the second it all becomes too much. And I'll be OK. There may be mess to clean up and decisions to make later, but I don't HAVE to do anything. I can choose.

In the world of infertility it's so difficult to remember this, but it's all on my terms. Yes, really. I'm not helpless here. I can walk away at any time.

But I'm going to stick around for now.

Starfish said...

Well, my ultimate escape route was adoption. As evidenced by the fact that I started the adoption process during my last IVF cycle. (if it had worked I would have continued with the adoption anyway). I only did IVF three times in a mostly straightforward way - my heart and mind couldn't take too many other escape routes.

nancy said...

I ~do~ have an escape route. And very recently, I mean just a week ago, I solidified it.

I have had a “hard stop” date for some time now. Due to an experience we had with the pregnancy of our second child, we had already made the decision to not have children after I turn 36 years old. It’s a personal decision unique to just us, not something I would impose on any other couple to even think about. And while this date is sooner rather than later, I am comforted knowing there is a stopping point to this.

I don’t want to make it to my self proposed stopping point without feeling that my family is yet complete. I hope it doesn’t come to pass where I have to give up. But I ~need~ this date to be part of my escape route. Without it, I feel that I could never get to a place where I decide to give up. I just don’t see being able to make the decision in the moment. It’s a date that used to be far in the future, now within sight. It’s a date I will get closer to with every cycle. It’s a date that will I will approach with a heavy heart, but because I know where it is, it will never surprise me.

Recently I was thinking about how much hard it will be for me to get to this date. I already know I have to plan for it. I’ll need to call my OB and make an appointment for the IUD insertion in advance, so I’ll have no choice but to just go to the appointment. I know I can’t trust myself to initiate it myself when it arrives. I have to have it planned out before I get there. And without knowing where “there” is, I would be lost.

And that is my escape route. My plan.

Oh, and I have decided that after my IUD insertion, I will also have an appointment with my favorite plastic surgeon. I will get ~something~ done if I don’t get pregnant. For me, this is something big to look forward to. Kind of like a parting gift.

Michell said...

I have an escape route, foreign adoption from Zambia. And when I found it a few months ago I bravely said that I would do that rather than do IVF. Now I've changed my mind again and thinking that if IVF came up, I would go for it. I'm just not ready to give up on the pregnancy thing yet.

bleu said...

My only escape plan, if you can call it that is adoption way way down the road. I honestly MUST have another child, period.

megan said...

this is exactly why i may never get on a cruise ship. what if i need to get off of the boat?

i have to say that i'm extremely lucky that we never really got to the point where we had to come up with a full on TTC escape route (yet?). we knew we were open to the adoption idea but never went beyond that. who knows what will happen if/when this pregnancy is successful and we decide to try for number two though.

i suppose my version of an escape route was always knowing what we were going to do next and to always have an appointment with some sort of doctor ahead of me. i had to do this in baby steps, which is likely why we never really had to lay out a firm escape plan.

sorry to hear you're meandering right now, Mel. does it help to think of your future treatments as your current "escape route?"

thinking of you, mel, and sending a big hug. xoxo

Road Blocks and Rollercoasters said...

I always have an escape plan. I feel like I have too, and for two main reasons:

#1--Like you, I don't like to be boxed into any situation. Whether its on a bridge, in a tunnel, or in the midst of treatment, I like having options. I like having a way out.

#2--I'm a planner. There HAS TO BE something else out there in order for me to have something to keep my eye on. Without that, I really might lose all hope with trying.

Unfortunately, having an escape plan when it comes to IF is a very scary thing for me, because I feel like no matter how many plans I have there inevitably are walls that I cannot get around and I can't tear down. I think that's why I'm so afraid to move to more invasive treatment because if that doesn't work then I sacrifice one of those escape routes I've had for safe keeping just in case.

I totally feel you on this post. It is so me. I do it with everything and I know it is just to protect myself more than anything, I just worry what will happen once I hit that wall.

Barb said...

We're still working on the escape route, but infertility certainly feels like a cage sometimes. And I HATE being trapped!

I'm much the same way that you describe yourself except that I always called it control freakishness, claustrophobia or Type A. :)

BethH6703 said...

This post could absolutely be me. Except that I take it into EVERYTHING in my life...

So, for right now, I have no definitive escape route. The Met seems to be doing its thing, so we're going to stay with that until we decide we need to move to "the next thing", which will be the RE.

ok, rereading that, I guess I do have an escape. But for me, its a much less formal escape... there's no deadline on this right now. And I'm ok with that, for now anyway.

I'm with Serenity tho, in that not being parents is not an option for us.

I used to think "never IVF", but I've learned to not rule anything out. whatever it takes to get us there, on which ever road feels right for us at the time...

Isabel said...

Bay Bridge? Bay Bridge? Oh my stars, I am suddenly so homesick.

I always had an escape route until I married. Then I had a depression. Related? There were many factors... I miss being in control of everything, having a plan for everything, and knowing everything.

Now everything is a grey area. It's very difficult.

JJ said...

Escape routes-we all need them-they arent always easy to define. I wasnt sure what I wanted to do if our first IVF didnt work...I went into it with the HOPE that it would work...but knowing that it might not-but here I am 2 months later, and I am still not sure where my escape is: do we trust that our FET will work? Will we do another fresh? Will we adopt? My current escape is called: coffine: coffee and wine (not together of course). It may not be substantial, but its making me happy, so keep 'em coming!

LJ said...

Ah Mel, if my therapist could hear you, she'd swear it was me talking. Except for the whole having twins thing. I didn't go up in the Eiffel Tower cause there was nothing that seemed fun about peering down from it. Don't do roller coasters. And definitely agree on the sharing of rides. I need options, I need to know that when I have had enough, I can get up and leave. I went to Rehoboth with friends the last two summers, and going last summer was VERY hard for me. I was carpooling, for a full weekend, without Mr. Badger, with the expectation of late nights. I don't do late nights. I'm just slowly learning how to figure out which of my fears are worth it. For the record, not staying up late when there is no way to go home - that's a not fun one for me in most cases. But if no one cares that I go to bed early, which I have found is true, I can have the best of both worlds. Escape plan? This year Mr. B and I drove ourselves :)

hope548 said...

This was a very thought-provoking post. I never recognized I had escape routes until now. I think if insurance had covered treatments, I would have spent a lot more time doing them, and even tried IVF. I think I would have jumped from one to the next. Since we were limited as to what we could afford to try, my escape was always still hoping it would happen on its own.

I'm not sure how it came to be that I didn't want to go through treatments anymore. I was at a crossroads for quite a while. Adoption wasn't something I considered for a long time, mostly due to ignorance. Once I learned more, adoption became not an escape route, but an option I'm ready to pour my heart into. I welcome it.

By the way, will you move my blog from "general infertility" to "domestic adoption"?

Jitters said...

After the bridge collapse in Mpls (2 blocks from where I work) I will not sit on bridges in traffic without opening my window.

I never thought I would need an infertility escape plan just like I never thought a bridge in the city I live in that I use all the frickin' time would fall into the river.

Even though I am moving to adoption, I still need an escape plan. I don't have one & can't imagine my life without children. So, I guess that leaves me to "escape" in other ways. Right now yoga is my escape plan. When I go to class no one knows me. No one knows I am infertile. In a sense, no one cares. I guess my escape plan is to escape from my life to autonomy every once & a while...