I’m pregnant.

Yup. We’re having a baby – she’s kicking me right now.

It recently hit me that I’m about to head into the third trimester. I figured I should probably write something on this blog. But what? Recap all the TMI details of how pregnancy has been? Talk about the weirdness of pregnancy after infertility & loss? Discuss sleep-training and breastfeeding controversies? Type in all caps? Eventually decide to say nothing at all because there’s a tiny part of me that still doesn’t feel safe enough to announce to the internet that I’m pregnant?

I’ve settled on doing a Q&A with my previous self – the one in the thick of it and not knowing if she’d ever get out – and imagining the questions she would’ve wanted to ask me. Here goes…

How does it feel to FINALLY be pregnant with an actual baby? Oh, it feels pretty amazing. Even complaining about my tailbone and my reflux and baby kicking my bladder feels kind of thrilling: like humble-bragging, grateful-complaining.

How has your pregnancy been so far (physically)? I have an extremely detailed record of all my physical symptoms and when I experienced them. I’m sure you’re not surprised. To summarize, weeks 5-12 were horrible due to unrelenting, round-the-clock nausea and vomiting. I was also fatigued beyond what I could’ve imagined, but being knocked out was the only thing that really took the edge off the nausea so I didn’t mind that much. Weeks 12-17 were me slowwwwwwly transitioning out of feeling like crap and beginning to eat again. Weeks 18-24 were pretty amazing energy and appetite wise. Since then I’ve been heading into uncomfortable territory once more – backaches, pelvic pain, and food just…coming back up.

How has your pregnancy been so far (emotionally)? I was a nervous, anxious wreck until about 14-15 weeks. Even though every appointment/ultrasound was completely reassuring, I cried constantly and spiraled daily. I couldn’t get it out of my head that I was waiting for the other shoe to drop, waiting for my punishment to come. Therapy was my lifeline, and poor K put up with a lot from me (while going through a lot on his end too). But something shifted pretty quickly around 15 weeks – a combination of encouraging statistics, slowly beginning to see a bump, dwindling nausea, and starting to feel baby move around. My heart still feels really “tender” all the time – I cry at most TV shows, many youtube videos, and out of the blue. Sometimes I am just overcome with feeling – by how much I love my baby, how lucky I feel to have her. So, normal pregnant person stuff 🙂 But sometimes I think I’m still grieving (and will always be grieving) my experiences of infertility and loss. My path to pregnancy has been drastically different than the vast majority of my peers (especially at my age). I’m learning to own that and accept that.

When did your bump start growing and what does it feel like? If I’m honest, I didn’t see anything til about 12 weeks, and even then, I had to be trying really hard. 14 weeks I had a bump that might have been a baby but also might not (I felt huge, but looking back at pics I was laughably tiny). I think around 16-17 weeks I began to look more unmistakably pregnant. I measured my belly at 24 weeks and it had grown a whole 10 inches, which is incredible! Having a baby bump feels like…when you eat a lot of food and feel uncomfortably stretched out, except 10 times more intense, plus it’s hard to wear shoes/give hugs/wash dishes. And also, you’re still really hungry.

How has eating/body image stuff been? Has it been hard to watch your body grow? Actually, this has surprised me: so far, I feel really good in my body. I am eating a lot of food very frequently, and I don’t feel any guilt around my eating at all. If I’m honest, I’m dreading stretch marks (which 90% of pregnant people get!), though so far so good on that front. Anyway, I already have some stretch marks from my ED recovery and they’re not that bad once they’ve faded. I don’t flinch from looking at my body and it’s summer so it isn’t like I can hide under big hoodies. This isn’t to throw shade on anyone who isn’t feeling so good in their bodies, pregnant or not. I think that’s totally valid and I’m still mentally prepared for days like those. But it’s also super nice to know that it’s possible to be feeling okay.

Okay, last question. How the **** did you end up getting pregnant? Oh friend. Oh my love. I know you are completely convinced that your body is broken and needs fixing and that you just need to find the right diagnosis or to do however many rounds of IVF it takes. I know you roll your eyes and want to scream when your husband, both of your therapists, AND several well-meaning friends/family suggest that maybe, just maybe, there is nothing medically wrong with your body. That maybe your spirit needs healing and you need to stop fighting yourself and that your mind needs a break. That it’s been a monumentally difficult year or so of upheaval and grief and relational pain. I don’t mean that medical conditions causing infertility and loss don’t exist, they absolutely do. It’s just that you don’t seem to have any of them – which I know is even more frustrating. You have healing work to do that doesn’t involve any more procedures or supplements. And that’s how you end up pregnant, with child, with life.

Self-care vs Resilience

This is a topic I did some research on recently for my program. I was so intrigued and couldn’t believe that this wasn’t being talked about more! Basically, it addresses an unnamed question that I haven’t been able to answer very well:

Why does self-care feel so…meh?

(for lack of a better word)

When COVID-19 hit, I was constantly talking about and hearing about the importance of self-care. Confession: it wasn’t very convincing. Sure, I love bubble baths, candles, and essential oils as much as anyone. Working out and taking steps to eat and sleep well are game-changers for my mental health. But if I’m honest, prioritizing “self-care” (as defined by popular culture) never took anything more than a tiiiiny edge off from my mountain of anxiety, chronic stress, and sadness.

Source: https://thingsgrow.me

According to Patricia Kerig (2018) – who has done a lot of research on how to address burnout and secondary traumatic stress in helping professionals – here are three reasons why self-care just doesn’t cut it sometimes:

  1. The emphasis is on the individual, not the system. It places the burden on the person at the mercy of unhealthy or even toxic systems to do all the work. Organizations and more powerful entities don’t have to take any responsibility.
  2. Self-care activities often work by helping us to distract from unpleasant emotions, rather than providing us the tools to process them. Caveat – I am a huge fan of distraction. But I know that it can’t be the only tool in my toolkit.
  3. It isn’t a very culturally-sensitive concept – it can feel awkward or produce resistance because it feels self-centered.

To make up for these deficits, Kerig developed a curriculum called Resilience for Trauma-Informed Professionals (R-TIP). She defines resilience as an interaction between self & environment; is a set of skills that can be developed rather than a personality trait. It is also multidimensional (emotional intelligence, meaning-making, interpersonal relationships).

If you’re a mental health professional, there is a continuing education course available here. I’m also citing her paper below.

But since most of us don’t have time to read a research paper and are not members of the APA, here are my takeaways re: how we can reframe the way we think about self-care:

  1. When feeling burned out, consider that this is not a reflection of individual failure or weakness on your part. Try to get curious about the systems you’re a part of – your workplace, school, household, etc – and see if there is a way you can ask for support or have your needs advocated for.
  2. Consider how to develop strategies for dealing with stressful and traumatic situations in the moment, and not just after the fact. If you’re anticipating a triggering or stressful day/event, be prepared and have a plan. Breathing, mantras, and escape strategies can be useful.
  3. Be careful of practicing self-care that is lacking in self-compassion. It’s so easy to take self-care and make it performative! Notice if you start telling yourself things like, “I failed really bad at self-care today, I need to do better.” Practicing self-compassion makes us more empathetic with others too. Sometimes we are so used to this punitive posture that we punish ourselves with our so-called self-care! (e.g. working out even when we’re exhausted, letting the logistics of self-care activities create even more stress, etc). It’s ok to let go of things that aren’t promoting healing and nourishment.
  4. Ask for feedback. Even though I like to think of myself as a highly self-aware individual, I know that I’m a poor judge of my true mental/emotional state. If you’re feeling brave enough, asking for honest feedback from a close friend or a family member can be valuable. I’ll ask my partner, “How do you think I’m coping with life? In your opinion, is ___ working for me?”. Sometimes the answer is hard to hear! But it’s in the spirit of trying to be more collaborative and systems-aware in the way we care for ourselves.

Source:

Kerig, P. K. (2019). Enhancing resilience among providers of trauma-informed care: A curriculum for protection against secondary traumatic stress among non-mental health professionals. Journal of aggression, maltreatment & trauma, 28(5), 613–630.

The Unlikeliest Gamer, aka me

This is a long overdue tribute to the Legend of Zelda series for helping to bring unexpected healing, hope, and joy to my soul over the past two years.

I was taught – by the lovely combination of my moralistic singaporean education and conservative church upbringing – that video games were dangerous. Addictive. A waste of time, an idol of the heart. Gaming will make you red-eyed and sleep-deprived and relationally-stunted and, of course, violent and cruel. You will get into trouble with strangers online. You will lose control and not be able to stop. I was wary of boys who gamed (which was many of them, especially in my field of study)…lucky for my husband, he never talked much about how formative video games had been for him when we were dating, or I might have tragically judged him 😛

In 2019, I started getting serious about weeding out beliefs & values that no longer made sense for me to hold on to as an adult. Some of these core beliefs had to do with heavy-type stuff, like my theology, sexuality, politics, cultural identity, and body image. And some of these beliefs were a little more frivolous, but no less important. For example, I gave myself permission to have really, really, really long hair. I’d been raised to believe that short hair was, I don’t know, more sensible and chaste and somehow good, but my hair is now down to my belly button, and I love it. Another example – I started using the dishwasher for the first time in my life, which is antithetical to the industriously-wash-everything-by-hand complex I’d somehow internalized. Stuff like that.

Skyward Sword & Twilight Princess

So when my husband brought home the family Wii, along with two Legend of Zelda games (Skyward Sword & Twilight Princess), I was curious.

https://www.taminggaming.com/game/The+Legend+of+Zelda+Skyward+Sword

I started out by watching him play Skyward Sword. He would encourage me to play, but I was too nervous. I remember trying to walk Link up a plank and being terrified of falling off. I didn’t have any controller muscle memory from my childhood to fall back on, and so everything felt awkward and clumsy. Monsters scared the crap out of me, and I would actually scream whenever a Bokoblin or a Deku Baba showed up on the screen.

But I rapidly – really rapidly – fell in love with the puzzles, the logic, the art, the terrible dialog, the music, and the act of doing something for FUN. I wanted my own file, and ended up playing through the whole game twice. I remained terrified of combat, though, and would beg and beg for K to fight bosses for me and just let me do the puzzles, side quests, and dungeons. And of course collecting and hoarding crap. He always refused, and I gradually had to overcome my terror – and my illogical fear of failure. I woke up with a sore right arm many times during those months. The feeling of triumph when I beat a boss for the first time…priceless.

So I was done with Skyward Sword and ready to move on to my next Zelda game. To be honest, Twilight Princess was too scary for me. Midna is so freaking creepy. So I just enjoyed watching K play and had to look away whenever he transformed into Wolf Link. To my delight, being able to share Zelda together as a couple felt like a way for us to level up in our relationship. I would look up guides for him and we would play through the game as a team. It felt so refreshing to be able to share a world with him that was outside of meal-planning, chores, organizing our social calendar, and hashing out our feelings/differences. Luckily for us, it wasn’t long before we got our hands on not one, but TWO Nintendo Switches, along with the hottest new Zelda game…aka Breath of the Wild, thanks to our very generous friends. So K and I could both play at the same time lol.

Breath of the Wild

What can I say? This game was a pretty big shock after SS & TP – just look at the art. It occupied me for nearly a year. Sometimes a scene would make me cry. I’m not going to attempt to explain the game, but playing BotW was without a doubt the most spiritually engaging experience I’d had in years. I felt real grief that I’d waited so long to discover this world. The musical score became one of my primary calming mechanisms – to the extent that I talked about it frequently in therapy. The shrines, logic puzzles, and the very complicated physics problems were like candy for the nerd in me who wasn’t getting much of a kick out of helping kids with elementary school math at my job. Some of the puzzles were pretty tough – especially the Divine Beasts.

We eventually gave in and bought the expansion pack, hehe.

Did the hundreds of hours I spent playing BotW make me a better person? I want to say that they did. I worked through my fear of failure and risk-taking. I was moved to tears by the art, humanity, and of course the engineering genius that went into the making of this game. My husband, sister-in-law and I routinely spent delicious evenings yelling at the tops of our voices at whomever happened to be playing. “USE STASIS YOU DUMMY” “YOU SHOULD EAT THE MIGHTY BANANAS” “YOU PRESSED TOO EARLY TO PARRY ATTACK” “GET OFF THE HORSE” “THAT’S NOT THE BEST PLACE TO FARM THE SHARD OF FAROSH’S FANG” “WHY DON’T YOU EVER HAVE ANY MONEY” etc. etc. It definitely helped to let off some steam during the tension and misery of lockdown 😉

The game, vast and sprawling as it is, did not last forever. The day came for me to beat Ganon (pretty anticlimactic imo) and eventually I got tired of hunting koroks and upgrading my gear. Thankfully, there were still plenty of games in the Zelda series to tap into (or get back into, for K).

Ocarina of Time

We purchased an N64 USB controller from Walmart (for less than $10!), downloaded an emulator and our next gaming adventure, The Ocarina of Time. OoT was released in 1998, and was an entirely different experience from BotW (2017) or SS (2011). Here is me as young Link, chilling in Kakariko Graveyard in my Firesuit.

Even though I was anticipating a less sophisticated experience, OoT was a true delight to play. I was determined to use as little of the online guides as possible, which made it extra rewarding. I inherited some vicarious nostalgia from K and all of his friends, for whom OoT triggered some serious ~feelings~ and memories of, you know, simpler times. OoT took me to the very start of 2021, and I officially beat Ganon on January 2nd of this year. All by myself and on my first try.

Majora’s Mask & Wind Waker

Which brings me to the present. K is playing (and recently beat) Majora’s Mask, and it was probably the most existential and profound game of the lot – really underrated. I am playing Wind Waker (and loving the Irish themes!!). I’m incredibly proud of myself for learning four different controllers (Wii, Switch, N64, GameCube) in spite of the initial clumsiness. I learned that it is okay and non-consequential to die – and die several times over – in a video game. My reflexes are much sharper, I’m able to calm myself down and focus during combat, and I want to say that I don’t scream as much when I am startled by something. I have bonded in an entirely new and wonderful way with my husband and my SIL. We even connected with two of our favorite elementary school kiddos over Zelda – whenever we see them, it’s all we talk about.

(Also…totally decorated our living room with these BotW travel posters)

The biggest gift that these Zelda games have given me is something to look forward to when it felt like everything just…sucked. Sounds small, but I believe that these games have worked a miracle in the midst of my depression and anxiety over the past couple of years. I remember one time my period was a few days late, and I thought I might finally be pregnant. When I started bleeding – aka not pregnant – I decided to lie in bed with a heating pad on my belly and play Zelda. Of course it didn’t take the sting away, but it was a relaxing and enjoyable activity that felt accessible to me. When you’re depressed and don’t have the energy to do anything, having something you look forward to is no small feat. In fact, it’s priceless, and you should keep doing it (within reason) until it’s no longer helpful or enjoyable.

Here’s to years & years of playing through Zelda games and prioritizing fun (and unlearning old biases). TBH one of the things that makes us most excited to be parents is looking forward to playing Zelda with our kids, heh. Here’s also to hoping that Nintendo gets its act together and finally decides to release BotW 2…

Wintry updates

We launched a podcast

The Misfortune Cookies podcast was born on Nov 1, 2020! It’s available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and more. We are only three episodes in, and have a relatively small following, but it has been a labor of love. Honestly, we are still figuring out how to angle it…but essentially, you can think of it as Asian Americans Talking About Shitty Life Experiences. Give us a listen/follow, and please reach out if you have any feedback or might like to share your story.

Finding my stride

I feel like I’ve been finding my stride a little more in the past few months. Between therapy (which is amazingly offered for free at my university…well, included in tuition), a local support group, Reddit, and the two wonderful human beings that I live with, I do feel loved, supported, and well-resourced…on most days. Trying to feel connected in 2020 has been an exercise in Just Saying Yes To Almost Everything And Clinging To What Sticks (sounds a little like online dating?). Within reason, of course, as always. Another major contributor to my general mental health has been…

90 days off social media

After watching The Social Dilemma at the end of August, I implemented a three-pronged strategy to preserve myself from the unwanted effects of being on social media. 1) I de-activated Instagram; 2) I de-activated Facebook; 3) I installed a Chrome extension called Remove YouTube recommendations. As a bonus, I disabled all notifications on my phone except for text messages (which, surprisingly, people don’t use that much…). It’s been a great decision and I plan to keep this up. Having been on “the other side”, I can attest to how intentional the psychological manipulation strategies are. I won’t deny that there is a time and place for social media, but in this season I think it’s abundantly clear that it isn’t good at all for my overall sanity.

Inconclusive limbo hell

In the first week of November, we experienced an emotionally draining election and another tenuous pregnancy, which unfortunately ended on election night. I started to wonder, at what point do we stop sharing this news with people? Five miscarriages in? Six? Seven? Am I going to be known as the girl who can’t carry a pregnancy to term? I will say that with each subsequent loss, I feel more numb and less crushed, mostly because I had almost no hope to begin with. Blessing or a curse? No idea.

Wrapping up another semester

This semester at school has been quite intensive – tons of skills practice, overanalyzing the darkest corners of my soul, and processing the nonstop barrage of difficult and chaotic news. I’m surprised by how effectively we’ve managed over Zoom, and am feeling a bit more anchored in my ~budding~ identity as a counselor. Also, I have at least one internship site lined up for next year, which is a big relief.

That’s all I have for now. Stay warm if applicable, and take care!

Infertility, aka Unwanted Childlessness

So we experienced a first trimester twin miscarriage back in January 2019. It was awful, but we remained hopeful – the midwives cheerfully waved me along after my post-miscarriage appointment; “see you in a few months!” they said with a conspirational wink. Our therapist pointed out that we had no reason to believe that this would happen again, or that we would have any trouble carrying a pregnancy to term. We were young, healthy, had gotten pregnant with no real effort, etc. etc.

The first year

The first couple of cycles of trying after the miscarriage were full of adorable naivete. I listened to a ton of pregnancy podcasts. I learned about postpartum care, chose a birthing center, stocked up on cheap ovulation & pregnancy tests (these are my favorite). Each cycle, I was convinced that I was pregnant and then crushed to learn that I wasn’t. It was confusing. Six, seven, eight months went by with nothing but increased anxiety to show for our attempts. We chalked it up to the stress we were under for various other reasons. We also observed with a dose of dry humor that the universe was working decidedly against us – we attended a disproportionate number of weddings in 2019, and for 5 months in a row my fertile window happened to coincide with some couple’s wedding night. But as a year crept up on us – the period of trying that would officially earn us an infertility diagnosis – I became extremely ansty.

And alone. It felt like my peers were either effortlessly becoming pregnant or not remotely close to thinking about childbearing. I didn’t tell anyone that we were trying so hard to try, and found it really hard to talk about with my husband. I felt so betrayed by my body. One of my biggest reasons for pushing through eating disorder recovery was to restore my natural cycles so we could have babies. On particularly bad days, I felt like it was all for naught, even though that was far from true.

Becoming officially infertile – and several twists

In Feburary, we started seeing a reproductive endocrinologist. We did a cycle of follicular ultrasound monitoring with them to check for PCOS and to see if I would be a candidate for medicated cycles. We paid hundred of dollars to learn that I did not have PCOS and was ovulating perfectly on my own, which I already knew, but never trust the patient right? Feeling unsatisfied, unheard, and a little turned off by how aggressively they were pushing IVF on us, we looked for an alternative. In March, we found a different provider that believed in treating infertility by finding the root cause, and not by trying to manipulate the natural cycle.

And then COVID hit.

And then I became pregnant – on my own!

And then I had another miscarriage.

Testing and doing crazy things

The second miscarriage qualified me for a whole bunch of new tests – the RPL (recurrent pregnancy loss) panel, as they call it. Everything turned up normal. I had two endometrial biopsies and a hysterosalpingogram (HSG) – both excruciatingly painful. Tubes are clear. Perfectly shaped uterus.

Throughout this whole process I have been relentlessly trying new things. Acupuncture. Arvigo Mayan Massage. Foot baths. Hypnosis. Talk therapy. Vaginal steaming. Functional doctor. Seed cycling. Taking a break from trying. Immaculate diet. Fertility yoga. No running. Reading a ton of books. Reading research articles. And oh, the endless supplements! Meanwhile it feels like the entire world is pregnant. And the ones who are not yet pregnant are going to become pregnant with no trouble at all.

This brings me more or less to where we are today. It’s been nearly 2 years since our first pregnancy, our unrequested invitation to hell. This journey has all but bankrupted me – financially, energetically, emotionally, spiritually, in every way. And before you tell me to relax and be grateful and then surely new life will spontaneously arise from my inner abundance, DON’T SAY IT. PLEASE DON’T SAY IT TO ANYONE. It’s unhelpful because we, the infertile people of the world, are aware more than anyone else of our stress, anguish, anxiety, and hopelessness – and we want more than anyone else to be able to relax, or at least to feel that our stress is manageable. It’s as cruel as telling a blind person, why don’t you just, like, see already? But I’m not trying to preach. Or rather, I’m trying not to, hah.

Limbo

So why am I talking about my reproductive failure journey on the internet? Well, for one, I’m incredibly lonely. I’m human. Sometimes I need to vent, and this is my blog after all. For two, I am done with feeling shame over this part of my life that has been enormously crippling and is in no way my fault. For three, I believe that story-telling is a really important part of any healing process. Especially story-telling in the midst of the sadness and struggle, when there hasn’t been any sign or confirmation of a happy ending. I always thought that I would wait until we had managed to achieve a successful pregnancy before sharing publicly about our infertility. People don’t know what to do with unfinished chaos. I certainly don’t. One of my recurring wishes has been to be able to time-travel to the moment of the birth of our first child. This limbo feels unbearable, but I know that my work in this season is to come to terms with my story, stay in my own lane, and make space for hard thoughts & feelings without having them consume all my energy.

What’s next?

We still don’t know why we’ve experienced infertility and recurrent pregnancy loss. I’m moving on to more invasive and expensive testing. I am prioritizing my mental health/sanity, because the stress of infertility – in conjunction with the normal and very real stresses of 2020 – has become untenable. We are working extremely actively on nurturing our marriage and strengthening our partnership, which feels like it has had to bear SO MUCH in a short 3.5 years. I’m still in graduate school full-time and working part-time. I really, really hope that some day (soon) I’ll be back here with the story of a miracle. But in the meantime I want to honor the struggle of the in-between-and-really-only-god-knows-if-we’ll-get-there.

Kina Grannis – who has walked this awful road for over 4 years – captures the feeling perfectly: