Cancer Ever After

Musings on Infertility, Adoption, Parenthood and Cancer

Snake Oil Salesman

What do you envision when I say the phrase “snake oil salesman?” Someone seedy? A quack? How about those who actually bought the snake oil or whatever was being sold? Until infertility, I always envisioned those who tried these “miracle” cures as fools. How could they be so naive as to believe that a certain tonic or elixir would fix them or their loved ones? I’ve come to learn that I was looking at this from the wrong perspective.

Two or three years ago, I could easily have been that eager audience member clamoring to buy the magical cure-all elixir. Imagine for a moment that you lived in the days before chemotherapy. In a time where there was no diagnosis or treatment for Crohn’s or Graves’ disease. All you know is that a loved one is wasting away before your eyes, or they are in unbearable pain. If there was even a sliver of a hope that what’s in the bottle could ease their symptoms or make them go away, would you take what that bottle offers? I bet you would.

That’s what infertility is like. What you want the most in the world is just out of your reach. You have no real explanation as to why things aren’t working; you just know they aren’t and you are willing to grasp at any straw. I used to live in online fertility forums. I’ve read stories of women who tried eating pineaple cores for a week or did head stands after sex in the hopes of getting pregnant.

I’ve tried many things myself: acupuncture, supplements, pills, shots, exercising, not exercising, yoga, meditation, eating clean, eating diary-free, and even electro-acupuncture. I was willing to try almost anything to get our miracles. I swear I even read of not one, but two, ladies who drank cow urine. The fertility industry, at times, reminded me of the stories of the snake oil salesman. People know they have a built-in audience that will do anything for the cure. Tim and I spend hundreds of dollars on all sorts of fertility cures in the hopes that it would bring us our dream baby. There’s not much that I wasn’t willing to try. (Although you’ll be proud to know I never did a handstand or drink cow urine.)

As you pursue the dream of family, it’s hard to focus on facts. It’s hard to weigh your options and it’s hard not to be swayed by a sexy speech that promises more. It’s surprisingly hard to trust your doctor.

There is a fine line between advocating for yourself and trusting in your doctor. I don’t believe that you can trust anyone completely with your health or your future because no one has as much at stake as you. You have the strongest motivation. But it is critical that you trust the doctors who you work with and believe in their judgement.

As a patient, I had to advocate for testing. I knew, based on past medical factors, that I had one weird thing in my blood. I didn’t completely know what it meant, but I knew that for some people it could be related to infertility and miscarriage. But it’s rare to be asymptomic with it (outside of miscarriages). My first doctor brushed my questions aside. I didn’t push. After we lost our identical girls, I demanded answers. He had none.

We researched more, and we decided to trek to Colorado to find a specialist who might know more. He immediately asked for more testing. In the end, it was determined it was a factor in the infertility, but not definitively the cause. It was a suspected cause for the miscarriages, and it did change our course of treatment. As we made that journey, I struggled to make sure that our decisions were based on fact, not some pitch. I read medical journal after medical journal to see the research firsthand. After he reviewed how he would treat us, I asked for articles related to the course of treatment. I needed to be sure that we weren’t pinning our hopes on snake oil. I also had to trust in him and his team and know that they had a wealth of experience to give us our chance at take-home babies.

That’s our one and only successful pregnancy.

That’s what brought me to seeking out medical professionals before trying to get pregnant again. Honestly, we received mixed answers. Some of the doctors felt like the risk of repeat complications would be much less with a singleton pregnancy and others felt like it wasn’t worth the risk. All counseled us to weigh another pregnancy very carefully. In my husband’s mind, it was never worth the risk. That’s why this adoption is such a blessing. We don’t have to roll those dice or take that chance. I don’t have to risk not being there for the two miracles that I already have in order to have a chance at having a third.

I’m not sad about missing out on another round of bedrest, or being sick, or being worried each and every day that I will lose another baby. That my body will kill another baby. A constant, overwhelming fear that something could go wrong at any moment is the strongest memory I associate with my pregnancy. The stories of a biohazard team being called in to clean the blood from my office floor and the entire floor being shut down after I hemorrhaged is funny in a not-so-funny way now, but it’s not a path I want to go down again.

And I don’t have to worry about falling for some miracle cure being sold by a snake oil salesman.

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A Real Man

One of the girls had a total meltdown because the bathroom door was closed the other day. “What’s the big deal? Typical toddler behavior.” And that’s true. This is nothing new, but what was new is that my husband was the one in the bathroom. The girls have decided to “pick their favorite parent” this month and they are not sharing. Hazel picked Tim.

The bathroom door being closed was the equivalent to declaring war on toddlers. Her rebel yell could be heard throughout the house. What made this incident so memorable is what I saw next. She quieted down immediately after Tim opened the door. And when I walked past the bathroom a few minutes later, I saw her sitting on his lap reading a book. I couldn’t stop myself. I whipped my phone out and snapped a picture (much to Tim’s dismay) and then solemnly promised not to share.

This is what a real man does. I’ve heard and been part of numerous discussions between women on what a Real Man is. I’ve heard and read countless complaints about how men don’t help out, or aren’t part of raising their children, and I honestly don’t get this at all.

Sometimes I think the limits placed on what men do and help out with is placed by the women in their lives. In our circle of friends, the guys are all very active and involved in their children’s lives. Maybe my circle is limited to the 10 or 20 men out there who are like this, but I don’t think I’m wrong. It’s time to redefine our collective definition of a Real Man in our society.

To me, a Real Man is a wonderful father. He shares in all the experiences of parenthood. He changes diapers (or in our case, washes every single one of the cloth diapers because I have the world’s most developed upchuck reflex). He cooks, he cleans and he gets up for middle-of-the-night feeds.

We live in an equal-opportunity household. When Tim talks to people about how we parent, he gets a lot of surprised reactions. He often hears, “But you’re the guy!” It infuriates me that men are somehow expected to do less or be less, and society chalks that up to being a Real Man.

While I agree that each couple has to find their own groove and figure out what works for them, I vehemently challenge the assumption that a Real Man is someone who does not participate in raising their own children or who would be emasculated by cooking or doing the dishes.

You can’t be a part-time parent during the formative years and then expect to be the confidante or buddy during the soccer-playing or Boy Scout-attending years. I challenge the idea that a Real Man doesn’t help with any of the care for infants or toddlers. I disagree that a Real Man doesn’t help with the cooking or cleaning.

Without my husband’s help, I would not have survived the first six months with twins, let alone breastfeeding them. He got up with me for every single feeding. EVERY. SINGLE. FEEDING. It was very difficult to juggle two babies when I was so sick from the delivery and subsequent complications. We both woke up around the clock for months. And he did it while working full-time. I didn’t go back to work until the girls were four and a half months old.

In my view, a Real Man does what’s needed to care and provide for his family. This may be repairs, this may be working two jobs, this may be changing diapers and cooking dinner. At the end of the day, a Real Man loves his children. Whether or not a guy is a Real Man is not measured by what he looks like or what his hobbies are. It’s about what he does with his heart and his time. A Real Man loves his family and, yes, a Real Man lets his daughter sit on his lap while he tries to go the bathroom.

Every morning, afternoon and evening, every minute of every day, I am so glad that I married a Real Man.

P.S. I caught the man who swore I would never hear him sing, singing to our girls last night in the nursery. I’m so in love.

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