17 December 2008

The Magnificent Seven

Friday was another bizarre, bizarre day. Honestly I don't remember much of it except the beginning...and the end.

The beginning: we learned from our doctor that of the seven eggs that he was able to retrieve, four had been mature, and three were not. So they picked four good-lookin' sperm (out of millions?!) and injected them, one each, into the four matured eggs. Those fertilized -- hoo yeah!

The other three slowpokes, they let mature overnight in the lab. By morning, they were in good enough shape that the embryologist went ahead and picked three more sperm and injected them as well. But by 1pm -- when this conversation was happening -- it was impossible to tell if those would successfully fertilize; all we knew was that they had a good chance, since the other four had 100% fertilization.

Here's a picture of them all, the magnificent seven:(I think they look like cocoa and butter cookies -- with the cocoa part in the middle. Mark thought the whole thing looks like a satellite reconaissance pic, like the one Colin Powell showed the UN: "these are the Al Qaeda bunkers, and these are the trucks carrying new shipments of ammo...")

Once we wrapped our minds around all that, it was time for a decision: how many to put back in?

Seven, of course, seemed like way too many. Maybe we could put in three or four, and freeze the rest for a second round of implantation, if we dont' get pregnant with the others?

But -- the expert opinion was far less optimistic, in a way. I had a history of increasingly high FSH levels, indicating my egg reserve -- and hence quality -- were not so good. It took extra days of injecting the maximum doses of the fertility meds, and we got only four mature eggs. The three "little" ones were already under stress from maturing in a lab, and there was no way of telling if they'd even properly fertilize. They probably wouldn't survive cryopreservation; their best chance of growing was right back in my body. So his recommendation? Put them ALL back.

...And we agreed.

Hopefully, at least one would develop properly, make its way to my uterus, and implant. Maybe two would make it; three or four would be highly unlikely. And even if they made it to the uterus, they wouldn't be "competing" -- the doctor explained that each embryo would send out signals to my body to ask for the fluffiest lining possible, so even if only one actually grew after implanting, it would have the luxury bedding made for the presidential suite, sleeps four. (Or more!)

So we went with it.

The next thing I remember....basically... is Mark tucking me into bed back at home. He stuck around until Hana came over and took over the baby sitting. I slept mostly, but later on she made me some yummy oden (like Japanese chicken soup), which REALLY hit the spot... arigato!

My belly button bled a little when I got out of bed, but otherwise it was all kind of uneventful. I just had three patches like bandaids down my abdomen, no big scars. Apparently all seven eggs went back into my left fallopian tube, no problem. Amazing.

So now it's the waiting game. I've been trying to just take it easy and minute by minute. The only real exertion was when the day after the surgery, I made it to the church for the choir concert. At first I was concert, because my throat had been a little sore (despite the anesthethiologist's repeated assertions that when he put me on the respirator, which was part of the procedure, he would use the "soft" tube he uses for opera singers. God knows what it would have felt like with the REGULAR tubing!) -- and most surprisingly, I found myself very short of breath. I suppose that's also from having been on a respirator, for however short a time. How delicate we are. So that bothered me even more than the tightness in the tummy. But my fellow singers were very supportive -- and the music itself was invigorating, as expected -- and the concert turned into a beautiful, spiritual, energized evening. And I just know it was good and healing.

Mark and I keep talking to the little ones. Now the message is "xiao xin, xiaohai" -- careful, little ones!

Here is the path they will take (courtesy of...I'm not sure, apologies. This image is everywhere.):

We're at "Day 5: 8-cell compacted morula" already. ("Morula" from the Latin "morus," or "mulberry.") Who knew.

Safe journey to all, and happy holidays :)

12 December 2008

Step two

Just a quick update that our doctor was able to retrieve SEVEN promising eggs yesterday! There's the caveat that note all of them are mature, or viable (i.e. well-shaped, healthy)...but let's hope it's the lucky seven. Apparently you can also help the eggs mature a little more outside of the body before fertilization -- who knew?

I was groggy and spacy afterwards but otherwise totally fine. Some cramping, but not constant -- mostly painful when I laugh, like after doing "too many" sit-ups -- I didn't even have to take the extra-strength Tylenol the nurses sent me home with. The weirdest part of the experience was probably going under general anesthesia for the first time. It was administered by IV, and I didn't even realize when they switched out the bag from saline to anesthesia -- so I'm lying in the op room, fully aware (I thought), watching the doctors and listening to one of my favorite Russian liturgical hymns on the iPod (I'd made a meditation mix to go under & recover to)... and the next thing I know, the song is different and I'm a little crampy and when I open my eyes, I'm back in the regular patient bed area. WEIRD!! No countdown, no "ok we're ready".... just BOOM, and it's over, and I have NO idea what was done to my body. Not even a sense that something WAS done, other than that little bit of cramping. Thankfully they stuck to my eggs and didn't go get a kidney or anything (I think...).

We find out in about half an hour (back at the clinic) how many of those eggs survived the night and the fertilization. And, if we have more than two zygotes, we'll have to decide how many to transfer back today. I don't even know what to think at this point; just taking it minute by minute. I just hope that at least ONE survived and is doing well!!

More later, or tomorrow, if I'm just too out of it today. Thanks for all the good energies, well-wishing and support! You know who you are! oxoxox

10 December 2008

The Gambler

Kenny Rogers is right: you gotta know when to hold'em, know when to fold'em. And we for now, are holding'em -- on two fronts.

One: my ultrasound on Monday morning showed at least six follicles now that were growing nicely. Our doctor needed no convincing that we should move forward with the cycle! But they still were in the 11-13mm range, not mature-egg size -- about 18mm -- so we decided on an additional round of hormone injections that night and another check-up on Tuesday, to decide one last thing: whether we would aspirate (i.e. harvest) the eggs on Thursday, fertilize them, and replace them on Friday... or make it a Friday-Saturday procedure.

My choir concert is Saturday night. If it was a Saturday surgery, there's no way I'd be able to sing. And we're not a large group.

So, we spent another day/night coaxing these little guys to grow. When we do the injections, I say "gambare gambare!" (Japanese for "go! go! you can do it!"), and Mark says "j'a yoh, j'a yoh!" (Mandarin for "go! go! step on it!", or literally, "throw oil on it!" which inevitably reminds me of a flaming, juicy wok).

Apparently it all worked, because Tuesday morning a bunch of the follicles were between 16-21 mm -- and I think we were up to seven possibilities (I lost count in the excitement). So we are a definite go for Thursday-Friday!

I had one last mini-round of hormones last night, and one big injection of HCG, a hormone that will trigger the release of my eggs in 36 hours -- the time of the aspiration, at 8am. Today I start taking antibiotics to prepare for the back-to-back procedures. Barring any catastrophes, I should even be able to sing by Saturday night! Hurrah!

MEANWHILE... two: the store is coming along nicely: each day we seem to be just a little bit busier, which is just the way we want it. In time, we want to be at least two times as busy/profitable as we were, say, on Sunday -- but the only publicity we've done so far has been word-of-mouth, so more extensive campaining and ad placements (if any) and reach-outs should get us there no problem. Especially if the people who come keep coming back. Which, so far, they all are!

BTW, we were "yelped" already -- yelp.com is a VERY popular, peer-review, Citysearch-type search engine -- check it out here.

Must get on a conf call now with New York for my day job. More later!

08 December 2008

Another countdown

So, Friday was not so good. My follicles were growing but not as fast and large as we'd hoped. In fact, there were four or maybe five follicles -- i.e. maturing eggs -- that were doing relatively well; the low threshold for an IVF cycle (making it worthwhile to harvest and try fertilizing the eggs) is six. I'd been hoping for at least nine, maybe eleven or even sixteen.

Our doctor basically gave us three options: forge ahead, with a low probability of success; stop, and turn the cycle into an IUI cycle (insemination instead of fertilization); or continue with more hormone injections over the weekend, and see where we're at Monday, and make a final decision then.

We opted for the third. So, three days and three hundred and thirty dollars' worth of Repronex later, we're on our way to the clinic again.

This is classic Emi: very deliberate (i.e. indecisive) over very important life things. I took a year off after high school because I didn't know whether to go to Stanford or stay in Japan and experience being "fully" Japanese. I took a year off after college, because I couldn't decide between going to film school in LA, NY, or London. Now, even my unfertilized, certainly unborn eggs are being indecisive: "I'm kind of maturning... but kinda slowly... not sure if I want to participate in this cycle... are we really ready?...Hmmm...."

After some soul searching on Friday (which I spent completely in a daze), I spent much of the weekend meditating, talking to my eggs and follicles, and napping. Frankly, I've been REALLY exhausted, and feeling bad cuz Mark's the one on his feet all day -- until a fertility counselor reminded me that my body is dealing with tremendous stress, trying to incorporate all these hormones and create at least five eggs where usually there's only one.

{the syringes I've used in the last 10 days.}

So that made sense. My body needed rest, so I gave it some rest. It was good.

Anyway, on our way now. More later.

05 December 2008

Oh, and one more thing.

Yeah... we thought moving cross-country and starting up a new business on my freelance salary wasn't enough. We're moving forward with the biggest, most emotionally harrowing gamble of our lives to date: IVF.

Well, technically, it's not IVF -- it's ZIFT, Zygote Intrafallopian Transfer. The idea is to fertilize the egg externally, then rather than continuing to grow it in the lab for 3-5 days and transferring it into the uterus, we return it to the fallopian tube where it grows naturally as the body carries it down into the uterus itself.

Ironically, this more "natural" process is much more invasive to the female (in this case, my) body: it involves laparoscopic surgery under full anesthesia, the day right after getting more anesthesia for the egg retrieval. But our doctor -- director of the Santa Monica Fertility Specialists, who we really like -- has had tremendous success with ZIFT, and considering our history, we decided to go for it.

I meant to start writing this about this a LONG while ago, but ya know, we've been busy. So here's the deal:

I began taking the Pill (yes, more irony) about a month ago (this is to take control over my hormones), along with pre-natal vitamins and baby aspirin:

Then, based on good (i.e. on-track) blood test results, starting on Thanksgiving Day, we began a hormone injection called Lupron -- twice a day with an insulin syringe. Two days later, we added another hormonal drug called Menopur (acquired from the UK to save at least a little $$). This was kind of a mess at first because it's extremely complicated to prepare, and the scheduled time to administer it happened to coincide with our first tasting. Mark and I were fumbling around in the bathroom like first-time heroin users.

Thankfully, it's all become somewhat routine now, and the side effects haven't been bad -- I threw up once on Thanksgiving Day and my abdomen's bruised up and sore, but no excessive weight gain or anything like that (which can happen). Emotional highs and lows for sure, but god knows that might be from the store opening too!

If all goes well, the egg aspiration (retrieval) should be next Monday -- already! -- and the transfer the next day (assuming some are usable, and some grow after fertiliziation). BUT... that's if all goes well. At our appointment yesterday, the ultrasound showed a few follicles growing, but not a great many, and not all that big yet either. Our doctor gave us a 50-50 shot at proceeding next week. If the follicles haven't grown enough, it won't be worth it -- so we would most likely abort (ha ha) the process and possibly start all over again after at least a two-month break to physically, emotionally and financially regroup. But, he did say that he's seen follicles "simmer" and then "soar," so... rah, rah, follicles! Rah, rah! Grow eggs grow!

Just goes to show: you can't plan anything. Dammit.

Another ultrasound and blood test tomorrow morning. Could set the course. Fingers crossed that we can make it happen... happy thoughts. Peaceful thoughts...

Blast off!

Thursday, December 4th, 2008, 10am -- The Curious Palate opened its doors, officially, to the public.

The last week has been beyond chaotic, with Thanksgiving (catering to the families of my friends Hana & Lisa -- our first paying customers!):

...TWO dinner "tastings," one on Saturday and another on Monday:

...and now, finally, the opening. Needless to say Mark has been cooking for about 23 hours a day, and Elliot has been...well, I don't think he's sat down or stood still for two months now, so one could say that's nothing new. I too have been caught deeper in the vortex than ever before, the epitome of which was handwriting one retail label after another last night at the store until 3:30am (you know the line between "late" and "early" have been crossed when the morning news comes on NPR) -- then came home and sliced up the cheese and charcuterie labels. Of course, Elliot trailed behind me by another hour and a half... madman....

But, I'm happy to report that the first day went absolutely swimmingly. People stopped by all day; at one point our tables were full (one occupied by me and more labeling materials); and there was lots of ooh-ing and aah-ing -- many just sighs of sheer delight that we were, at long last, open. (Apparently it seemed long to those hungry people who walk or drive by every day too.) There is definitely MUCH more to do, but Mark said one family came by tonight and stayed for dinner, and the two kids raved: "It's the best restaurant we ever ate in!!!".... which, in my book, makes it all worthwhile.

I have to say... the store looks and feels like just the place we'd imagined. Again, there are SO many more dimensions to add... one prism color at a time.

Just happy we're off to a good start. Cheers!

P.S. A few of our retail offerings to whet your palate. Edible love :)