Monday, March 10, 2008

A name's power

In Egyptian mythology, Ra was once the most powerful of the gods. But Isis, desiring to increase her power (for any of the different reasons found in the variants), contrived to have a serpent bite him. As the sun-god suffered, she told him that she would be able to heal him if only he would reveal to her his secret name. He hemmed and hawed, trying to put her off with epithets and lesser names, until the pain grew to be too much. Finally, he gave in and told her. Thus, Isis gained control over Ra's powers and herself became immensely powerful.

The idea of a "secret" or "true" name, that knowing this name bestows power upon the speaker, threads its way through mythology and folklore, religion and mysticism. It appears in many works of fantasy. In Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea, naming forms the core of magic. Education in magic includes lessons in Old Speech so that students may learn the names that will endow them with power. Simple objects--plants, rocks, and the like--require simple memorization, but discovering the names of more complex objects moves beyond vocabulary lessons. In order to vanquish a dragon, the young protagonist relies both on his knowledge of old history and a hunch. That is, an intersection of research and intuition.

While the dragons I face are metaphorical, I appreciate that moment when research and intuition come together and that thrill of the power behind naming. Even in those moments before the name is fully formed, as it begins to whisper in my ear, I can feel the power building.

I consulted with a nurse practitioner today, a board-certified OB-GYN nurse with 30+ years of experience in assisting women in becoming pregnant. She was the first medical professional who responded to the report of my two miscarriages not with a "That's too bad, but they were probably both just flukes and the only thing to do is soldier on," but a "That's awful; tell me more and let's see if we can get on the path to figuring this out." After I explained my history, health in general and fertility specifically, she picked out threads, some of which have never been traced to their origin. I came away without the power of a name, but at least the exhilaration of a new lead and the slightest whisper of words that will help me get there.

The whisper started for her with the smaller details of my pregnancy history. Not just "one normal pregnancy and then two miscarriages not quite five years later." Rather: first pregnancy included slow-rising HCG at the beginning but made it to term, second pregnancy ended at nine weeks but baby died at seven, third pregnancy ended at about six weeks and cleared out so quickly that there was nothing left to measure at the ultrasound. The five years did not explain this to her, especially given my family history of women who are (unproblematically) fertile well into their 40s.

The place to look for the name starts to come into focus. The words that float in the air are not words I would usually welcome--auto-immune response--yet their presence provides an unexpected comfort. It is likely that my body has reacted mistakenly to my pregnancies. With the first one, my body was dealing with an unknown invader, and so the immune response took a while to build. By the time it started producing antibodies in large numbers, I had made it far enough along that it was not going to dislodge my son; however, this might be an explanation for why my HCG levels did not double as expected. With the second pregnancy, the body remembered the earlier invasion and was quicker in manufacturing antibodies. (On the plus side, the fact that my body held onto the baby for two extra weeks argues against my progesterone concerns; the hormone was there, desperately holding on even after it was too late.) The even shorter duration of my third pregnancy fits the auto-immune theory; my body needed very little time indeed to prod the antibodies into action.

I now have a plan to work from, the next steps in discovering a name. In addition to the test for celiac, I will request an anti-thyroid antibody panel; if either test comes back positive, I will have a name and something that can be measured and monitored before pregnancy. But even if neither path gives me an answer, the nurse practitioner feels confident that we have enough of the name to increase our chances of success. Once I am ready for the next round of trying, I will go on a very low dose of prednisone; the cortico-steroid should damp the antibodies and give me the best chance of a full-term pregnancy. The worst case scenario is the one I feel pretty sure I would be facing with no intervention: a third miscarriage. And that would be the end for me.

But I cannot shake the kernel of optimism that this consultation unearthed. All that she said rang true for me; the whisper came to my ear and said, "Yes." It will take a couple more months to follow this path to the next juncture, but at least I can now see it in front of me.


cinnamon gurl said...

That SO wonderful that you've found someone to guide you down this path... good for you for following your intuition. I hope you find a name soon.

Sandra said...

Don't shake that kernal of optimism. Hold onto it with both hands. You know I am cheering loudly for you with so much understanding and hope from here.

And your words: "I appreciate that moment when research and intuition come together and that thrill of the power behind naming." I so, so get this.

Karianna said...

Best of luck. It sounds as though you have a great person / team on your side.

My cousin had a similar set of symptoms as you: she didn't have trouble getting pregnant, but had trouble staying pregnant. In her case, the autoimmune response was because her DNA and her husband's were too closely matched. The solution was have several injections (I've forgotten of what) throughout the pregnancy to quell the immune response. She has since given birth to two healthy boys.

Fingers crossed for more progress for you!

Her Bad Mother said...

CLING to that kernel of optimism. NURTURE it. It wants that.


Lisa b said...

Did all of my comments get deleted or are you breaking up with me?
NPs are the BEST, so glad you have someone to follow through on your suspicions. That is the #1 lesson I have learnt this year.

Mouse said...

No comment-deleting here, Lisa B. I could never break up with you.