Saturday, August 29, 2009

death is but one night to the soul

I spent 13 years getting to know Tony, an orange cat I adopted from the pound. Probably few can understand the connection we had; soulmate is the closest word that fits. My view of life within the Universe is fairly non-hierarchical; consequently, I have learned a great deal from non-human relationships. My first experience of this was soon after my mom died. I could feel her in the wind, I could sense her presence in the trees, and could feel how strongly we remained connected. The ways I perceived her cannot be explained with words; this is where language limits us.

Shortly before Tony died, I read a book that changed my life, a book that could be dubbed as The Idiot's Guide to A Course In Miracles. I believe when we are seeking, it's not coincidences that are brought forth as lessons, rather, a heightened sense of awareness grows in response to our seeking. In other words, things are there all along, we just haven't developed the context to see them.

When Tony was sick, I consulted with a talented woman who provided a "reading" that bridged the gap between two loved ones - one who was too wrapped up in the physical world and grieving too hard (me) to directly receive the words of a more enlightened being (Tony). His words that she passed on have been carried with me in a small red envelope for 3 years. While dealing with the grief of my nephew's transition, I am reminded that this physical experience we become so tied to is just one part of who we really are.
We have a little secret. We are all one. So I'm not really going anywhere. It's an illusion, an adventure, a play. You will wake up shortly and I will be there.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

International House of Prayer

I heard about IHOP several years ago, but I'm usually turned off by anything with a perceived religious branding, so I dismissed it. I since met someone who is part of this organization and I'm intrigued. Not in a searching sort of way - been there, done that, and arrived - but in a voyeuristic sort of way. If I could attend IHOP and observe without being intruded upon, I would go.

The International House of Prayer offers 24-hour prayer and worship services. That's right, church around the clock, 24-7. This idea is modeled after some Biblical story with King David, tabernacles, and day and night worship.

I grew up in a church where black and white was taught: right vs. wrong, sinful vs. holy, you get the idea. I was confused about the other "christian" churches that had different beliefs and rules. To help me reconcile the conflicting messages, my mother told me she'd pondered the same question and received a revelation that: They are all right.

Holy crap. That's the wisest thing I ever walked away with in the context of my religious upbringing. It's true; they are all right - Buddhism, Islam, Christianity. But here's where they are wrong: When they tell other people, "there is only one way." When they tell people, "my way is the right way." When they tell people, "you must think and believe like me."

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Assembled Team

Sometimes it can take more than a man and woman for pregnancy to occur. In our case, I've enlisted a team. Many hours have been devoted to research, consultations, and even some bad matches. Finally, we have people we trust. Following trust is hope - something I haven't felt in a long time.

Reproductive Endocrinologist: We found a knowledgeable and caring physician in St. Louis for our IVF cycle.

Reproductive Immunologist: I've been working with Dr. Kwak-Kim in Chicago for a year. She is the past president of the American Society for Reproductive Immunology and has dedicated her career to research of the immune system's role in human reproduction.

Acupuncturist: Mary Zhang specializes in fertility and has helped many people. Mary and her assistant, also Mary, are extremely knowledgeable and have pointed me to some of the best medical providers in the country. Acupuncture becomes even more important around the time of embryo transfer.

Midwife: This was an accident since I was really looking for a new ob-gyn, but I recruited the most wonderful midwife at my primary care physician's office. Jeanie is a breath of fresh air and doesn't criticize what she doesn't understand. She is excited to learn about our protocol and help out however she can, which includes drawing my blood and handing the tubes back to me so I can ship them to Dr. Kwak-Kim. How refreshing.

Therapist: Kris Probasco is a counselor specializing in fertility issues, has extensive understanding of ART procedures, and is familiar with reproductive endocrinologists and their practices throughout the US. She also runs an adoption agency, including embryo adoption.

Maya Abdominal Massage Therapist: Joan Schmeltz performs this ancient massage technique that can assist with things like getting a tilted uterus in its ideal position.

Hypnotherapy: I already wrote about working with a hypnotherapist in Denver. Since relaxation and a calm mind are important components to conception, I'll be utilizing the meditation techniques that Jim Schwartz taught me, along with some guided meditation CDs.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Open Doors

I haven't had much faith lately. I broke down today when my intricate plans fell apart. The week of October 5th was our planned IVF cycle date. We decided on a clinic in St. Louis since the close proximity would allow us to travel back and forth for a few weeks. The clinic we really want to use is in San Francisco, but with the distance it's not feasible to travel back and forth, so we'd be looking at a two-week stay.

Wanting to know the best course of action upfront and thinking things have to make sense right now has created stress for me. We don't have to do the most logical or practical thing, because the Universe knows the best path for us to take. We don't know the end of this story; it will all make sense in time. My only job is to accept when one door closes and keep my eyes on the doors that do open. Faith is trusting that the next door will open; control is struggling to open the door that's already closed. I'm learning to move on gracefully...

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Perfect Margarita

1 oz fresh-squeezed, strained lemon juice
1 oz fresh-squeezed, strained lime juice
2 oz simple syrup
2 oz premium tequila
1 oz Grand Marnier or Cointreau

Fill a cocktail shaker three-quarters full with ice and add listed ingredients. Shake and strain into a pre-chilled margarita or martini glass.

Gomers has Milagro Silver Tequila on sale for about $25.

Costco has the best price on Grand Marnier for $35.

OXO has a good, inexpensive juicer.

You can store lemon juice, lime juice, and simple syrup in the fridge in glass bottles.

My thoughts on fast food

The last time I ate at a fast food restaurant was in 2004 when faced with the choice of eating an Egg McMuffin from McDonalds or eating nothing at all. When I say fast food, I don't count Chipotle, Wahoo's, Planet Sub or other places selling food that tastes like food. I'm talking about the scary stuff - McDonalds, Burger King, KFC, Taco Bell, and Sonic.

Recently I was faced with the dilemma of eating breakfast at a cafe while inhaling second-hand smoke or eating breakfast at Sonic. Even though I chose Sonic, I'm still second-guessing that decision. Sonic doesn't use cheese on their breakfast burritos; they use a glossy, yellow substance that is supposed to look like cheese, but is probably received by the body as a foreign substance. After two bites, I gave my burrito to Steve. I managed to eat 3 deep fried french toast sticks while trying hard to ignore the ingredient list on the package of maple "syrup" and wondered if anyone consumes these things on a regular basis, and if so, how long do they live?

I have colon cancer on both sides of my family, which was my original motivation for adopting a healthier lifestyle and quitting fast food 20 years ago. When you go that long without eating it, fast food becomes terribly unappealing. It's so easy to eat fresh and healthy, and I'm happy more people are doing this, along with supporting local farmers, and demanding more organic products. Look into joining a CSA if you haven't already. Hen House's CSA program is a good one. I find many fabulous recipes using good ingredients - with reader reviews and suggestions - at

Yikes! What is this?

Friday, August 7, 2009

ART 101

Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) has gotten a bad rap from idiots like Octomom and her doctor, who I hope had his license revoked. Having eight babies puts nine lives at risk. What kind of a mother willfully does this? What kind of physician agrees to participate?

All things ART-related fascinate me, so here’s some good stuff.

The American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) claims that:
  • 1/3 of infertility cases are attributed to male factors
  • 1/3 are attributed to female factors
  • 1/3 are a combination of male/female factors, with about 20% of this population attributed to "unexplained" factors
IVF Optional Features
The treatment of male-factor infertility can be treated with ICSI, where a single sperm is injected directly into an egg. The sperm can even be extracted by testicular tissue removal in a process called Testicular Sperm Extraction (TESE). ICSI with TESE is an alternative to vasectomy reversal, as well as sperm donation in the case of heterosexual couples. Patients should plan on spending an extra $2-5K for one or both of these IVF services.

Pre-implantation genetic testing (PGS/PGD) is an option that will cost you about $3-4K extra. Two physicians I’ve consulted with disagree on this issue. One is a big advocate, the other claims only a small percentage of abnormal embryos will implant anyway, so the body usually takes care of this on its own. Only 9 chromosomes out of 23 can be analyzed. A false-positive or false-negative occurs in about 10% of embryos. There's also a low risk of accidental embryo damage.

The Moral Police?
Physicians have been criticized for discriminating against single women, unmarried couples, and lesbian couples by refusing to treat them. This may not be the result of a physician’s personal beliefs; it could represent the religious/moral views of the affiliated hospital. In order to bypass any hospital obstacle, a physician would need to set up an independent practice like this one did.

Decisions, Decisions
ART can bring up some dilemmas few people think about (and why would you?). Most of them won’t apply to us, but they’re still interesting to ponder:

If you freeze your leftover embryos and decide you don’t want another pregnancy, what would you do with them?
  1. Destroy them?
  2. Donate them for research?
  3. Adopt them out?
If you put your embryos up for adoption: Would it be a closed or open adoption?

If you’re on the receiving end of embryo adoption: How much genetic/background information would you want from the donors of the embryo?

Questions like these are why lawyers and embryo adoption agencies get involved.

Donor Eggs
Consider the use of donor eggs. Some conservative physicians won’t perform IVF on women with poor quality eggs. But the only true assessment of egg quality requires removing them from the body in the context of IVF. Blood tests and ultrasounds provide some information; however, major life decisions – having a child that is genetically related to you – are sometimes made based on these tests. Would you use donor eggs to increase your chance of pregnancy? As a woman, are you okay with carrying and having a child that is not genetically related to you? If so, when would you tell your child that he/she was conceived with donor eggs? Similar questions arise when donor sperm is used.

And Finally, the Multiples Issue
The ASRM provides guidelines on the appropriate number of embryos to be transferred. This is a decision that should be agreed upon by the physician and patient(s). The option of selective reduction should be discussed before a decision is made on the number of embryos transferred.

Blastocyst culture and transfer is a good way to prevent multiples. Blastocysts are embryos that are approximately 5 days old. The advantage is one of selection; fewer embryos (generally only two) are transferred, reducing the risk of multiple gestation. Blastocyst culture provides the embryologist with more information from which to choose the embryo(s) that are most likely to implant and become a baby. However, the ideal candidates are patients under 35 with a low FSH and large number of good quality embryos, or women using donor eggs.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Hypnotherapy Experience

I recently completed a one-week intensive program with a Denver-based hypnotherapist specializing in fertility issues. The program addresses emotional blocks to conception and works to process these issues while the brain is in a theta state. I read Jim Schwartz’s book The Mind-Body Fertility Connection a year ago; I already knew a lot about mind-body issues, but the opportunity to work one-on-one with Jim was invaluable. We uncovered issues, processed them, and I learned visually-rich meditation exercises designed just for me.

Talk therapy can be beneficial in many circumstances, but can also be too linear since it works with the conscious or critical mind – the part of the brain that is analytical and logical. It’s not necessary to re-live anything during hypnosis, but I see the efficacy of working on issues while the mind is in a deeply relaxed theta state as a time-efficient method of therapy. We made huge strides in just 6 sessions last week.

Hypnotherapy isn’t for everyone. I work extremely well with images and visualizations, so it’s a natural fit. Jim has done extensive research and knows what underlying issues to target. He did a great job tailoring his treatment to my circumstances and I could tell he wasn’t utilizing a one-size-fits-all approach. I’ve worked with two hypnotherapists in my hometown but neither was a good fit – partly because they didn’t customize the sessions to my circumstances.

Jim claimed that some people go on to conceive naturally after hypnotherapy, sometimes while waiting for an IVF cycle. I’m not counting on that, especially since I start birth control pills next week (so my body can be completely manipulated with hormones over the next few months). I believe the emotional issues represent just one piece of the puzzle; but if performing meditation exercises on my own can help me achieve a more relaxed state, then that can only help during the IVF process.

One study suggests that hypnosis prior to embryo transfer doubled the success rate in IVF patients: 28 percent of women who underwent hypnosis became pregnant versus 14 percent who did not receive hypnosis. The study was criticized for numerous flaws; it doesn’t indicate the rate of live births and doesn't control for age or diagnosis, for instance, but I think it suggests enough of a correlation for future research.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Operation Water Bottle

I bought this cool stainless steel reusable water bottle from Starbucks using a gift card a good friend gave me for my birthday.

I was out of town for 8 days and decided to keep my bottle full of filtered water and not buy one plastic water bottle. Besides morning coffee and evening wine, water is what I drink.

Before I officially decided on my challenge, I purchased a gallon of filtered water at the grocery store. Rest assured, people, this jug was refilled about 4 times and was used to fill up my cool stainless steel water bottle.

I took advantage of the filtered water at Wahoo's Fish Tacos when I ate there five times.

The Sheraton had a gym with a water filtration system, so I was able to fill up anytime between 6am and 10:30pm. Before I discovered this, the bartender filled up my water bottle.

I didn't plan ahead one night, but still secured a water supply by filling my bottle with ice and letting it melt while I slept. Thank God, Buddha, Allah & The Universe for the

Overpriced $3.25 bottles of water weren’t my motivation, but I've heard enough about BPAs in plastics that I find myself guarding my reproductive system. And yes, I did refill that plastic gallon jug... but I didn't heat it up!

I filled up at a locally-owned coffee shop in LoDo. Thank you for the water, sorry I spilled it all over the floor, but your iced lattes still suck. I'm so glad we found a Peet's Coffee on Sunday.

I wasn't shy about asking Starbucks to fill my bottle up with water.

The Warwick Hotel had an awesome workout room on the 15th floor overlooking downtown Denver. And, yes, we did actually workout and didn't just fill up on water.

The Warwick's workout room also had lemon water, which is my favorite.

I also managed to avoid the $5 Fiji water bottles at the Warwick.

I made it 8 days without buying a plastic water bottle (other than the initial gallon jug). Some other places that filled up my water bottle: Whole Foods, The Randolph Room, 24-Hour Fitness, and Red Rocks Grill.