The women and men, and the medical staff who support them through fertility treatment have come to be some of the bravest heroes I know. No, they don’t fight war, and aren’t usually facing the loss of life, but they do slog through years of ups and downs until success finally happens or the news that nothing more can be done is delivered.
Women and men dealing with infertility face an uphill battle that is emotionally draining and physically taxing. That dream of a child becomes consuming. As a woman, I can only speak to the women’s experience. Sometimes I think, it might just be easier to think like those who don’t want kids. They are so free of that struggle. They can take the joy of children in measured doses of babysitting or family get-togethers, or not at all. I envy their feelings on childbearing, because they will never have to feel what I have felt: the terror of being childless, when it is something you’ve dreamed of for twenty or more years.
Before we begin, there are some terms, which most will not be familiar with. IUI is the process of intra-uterine insemination. Sperm is inserted past the cervix via a catheter. In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) is the process of harvesting eggs from a woman’s ovaries and fertilizing them outside the body to ensure quality embryos, which will then be inserted into the uterus in the hopes they will attach and make a baby. Neither always work. Nothing yet is 100%. The struggle to have a family is pretty real. The process is not for the faint-hearted.
I know, because I am going through fertility treatment to have my first child. It was nothing I had planned. I believe in disclosure and talking about things, despite my INFJ personality. It is cathartic, and it might be cathartic for others too. Friends, coworkers and, of course, family have been aware of my choice for sometime and supporting me on the low. They’re a priceless piece of this journey who help me keep the strength.
How did I get here?
In an essay for Old School, New School Mom, I spoke about how I came to the decision to pursue childbearing in this manner. I won’t rehash that story here, because you can read about it on the link. The redundancy will slow the article, which I want to talk about the process I’ve undergone instead.
Since the start of 2015, I have been attending my local fertility clinic to start the process. I was assessed by doctors and nurses over the course of a month to see if I have any issues with bearing children before they started any procedures. Though I was late once in college with a period, I have had no pregnancies. I only used birth control in my later 30’s to ease symptoms of my menstruation so I could get my health back, as it was really draining me. Once it spiked my blood pressure, I was back off it, but during the time, I couldn’t have conceived if I wanted, so I was delayed there too. And then there is the issue of a stable relationship in my life. So, not only am I facing unexplained infertility (they have no idea why I can’t conceive, other than my age and that it is like a 20% chance for healthy couples to begin with), I am without a partner to father a child at this time.
Between hardly meeting men and the difficulty of maintaining a relationship for long periods, for whatever reason (usually that I was too focused on my writing and not paying enough attention to them) life just sauntered toward this choice of single parenthood. At 40, I was diagnosed with unknown infertility. In other words, as I stated above, my age was cramping my ability. Women become increasing infertile after 35. The risk of having a child with developmental disabilities also increases. The risk to the woman’s health increases (gestational diabetes, gestational hyper tension to name a few).
The unknown basically says, other than being a bit dusty, everything is in order, love. So we can’t say why you’re not getting pregnant the old fashioned way. Frustrating! Add the single issue, and I don’t expect that to change here forward. Wanting a child doesn’t disappear because you turn 40, or you aren’t finding prince/ss charming. Maybe it becomes more poignant, when you’ve dreamed of having a family your whole life and it’s just not coming to pass. As I said before, it becomes consuming. The clock ticks and ticks…Thankfully, I have a few good years ahead to get this right.
Since July, the ups and downs of the process have been many. Multiple visits for trans-vaginal exams, blood draws weekly, holding your breath for a yes only to find out nothing is coming of it, finding and losing a great donor—finding another donor, taking medications vaginally (unpleasant to say the least) and hoarfing down vitamins the size of large kidney beans (is my nausea due to this—both medications actually). I could go on for a while about how the medications torture your mind with symptoms. When my alarm went off to remind me last night to take my vitamins, I shut it off and ignored it.
Did I mention that I have been without coffee and Advil since April of 2015? Coffee has been making my heart race (the regular kind) and the Advil was preventing implantation. For those trying to get pregnant, that’s not something I was told, but found out on my own after the first failure. Donor sperm, btw, isn’t cheap—or plentiful. To waste a sample like that is really frustrating. It’s basically like I just washed it down the sink, over a thousand clams…right down the drain. When you’re saving to buy a house to keep baby in, it matters! When you have a low income, or single income, it matters! The nest egg you built in hopes of helping you get junior through the first years dries up quick. What then about daycare and other expenses—it depends on if you can get into a program that helps or not. There is so much to do, that stress of the pending plans is enough to make you infertile.
So I try to ignore it and just live in the now.
But then, you obsess on the process that is now. That breath holding (is my pregnancy test coming back positive? Will it develop into a baby or not?) has happened twice now. As I write this, in mid January for publication in February, I am in the process of a miscarriage. I almost got there. So upsetting. So scary. It’s unknown. Television makes it out to be both devastating and excruciating (it is often written by men who have no clue and over dramatize the event). Nurses at my facility as well as friends assure me I will be okay. Uncharted territory makes me brace. The traumatic part hasn’t started yet (bleeding, the shedding of the blighted ovum). But, my awesome nurse walked me through everything to expect. Hopefully my body does well here. If not…there is the prospect of a D&C which could result in scarring and permanent infertility. My luck is that I will always win the lottery for bad shit. You bet your bippy I’m worried.
So what happened to my pregnancy? The first time was a miss. Nothing. Second time was a false positive miscarriage (the egg was fertilized and did not attach, which is extremely common). Third time, this past Christmas, I though I had gotten the best Christmas present ever. I had two positives and I saw a sac developing. By week seven it was evident there was no embryo in that sac. This, too, is quite common. Most women, from what I am reading, miscarry between weeks 6 and 8. I’m right on the dot. Christmas present taken away. Sigh.
There is comfort in knowing that no baby was developing. I have heard stories of women losing a fetus as late as 10 and 12 weeks, requiring a D&C to remove the deceased fetus, and the trauma lingers for weeks—self-blame, doubt, disappointment…
There are so many emotions associated with the struggle. Imagine going through this for four years. A woman at my clinic had visited with her twin newborns. They were a four year struggle to get it right. Oh, my, they were beautiful. The nurse, one I love, who I will call Beck, made sure I knew how long it took. They want you informed. They kept checking my face to see how I was doing. Oddly, I am fine.
Like I said, no child was developing. It IS disappointing to have your Christmas present taken away, something you had been hoping for for twenty years. Oh, what an amazing gift to get, though. It would have been perfect. But these things are so unpredictable that I didn’t even really allow myself to feel the excitement. I knew the statistics of about 30% of pregnancies (reported) end in miscarriage. My luck is that I will always win the lottery for bad shit. Remember how I said I win the lottery for bad things? So I knew to be cautiously optimistic.
Despite the worry, those exams and the nurses reporting that there is little growth or you might be later than we thought, the sorrys that can’t erase disappointment and so on, a fear of any and all medical procedures, I will be trying again. I had three IUI cycles, which is plenty for a woman my age. They actually recommend skipping this and going straight to IVF. Those IUI cycles were expensive proof that I am able to get pregnant. Now it is time to get real serious with IVF. It will be costly to have the genetic testing done, but I am seriously considering it. A woman on a single income has enough trouble raising a baby without the struggle of special needs. I struggled for 13 years with dog that had developmental disabilities. The emotional and financial strain is taxing. I can’t imagine this with a child. Some might think it is unethical to test and choose ‘super babies’ from the pool of candidates, but I wouldn’t be the only family who has done this. Personally, I think it is wise. Discussing it with other women, they agree. Give your child the best chance, especially when you can help so easily.
So, as of right now, I will be in recovery from a failed cycle for a few months. Next time will be in the spring. I’ll write about IVF then! For now, post Misoprostol, I am laying in bed recovering and hoping everything is coming out that needs to come out or it’s a D&C (which can make you infertile). I can’t describe the agony of three days of cramping and passing tissue and bleeding. The medication that helped me reach this point, as my body was taking a long time to respond to the cessation of development, caused some pretty harsh cramping. Motrin didn’t touch the aches and pains. I cried. I stayed home from work. I suffered. Every bit of tissue that was leaving my uterus made itself well known with pressure and pain. I hope the stork saw and takes pity on me, as not to allow this again. And, then there is the hormone drop and the emotional roller coaster. I am fine. But, I am also angry, feeling cheated and so tired of winning the lottery for bad stuff. When is my turn? I look at my dog, Sadie Sue, and thank the Gods she’s mine, as she is proof that I also win amazing things in random order.
Through this all, I have never felt so utterly supported in all my life. I thought for certain I’d be so devastated, wishing for a husband to feel this with and be comforted and comfort back. I haven’t needed him, though he would be amazing to have—a partner for this journey in the most intimate of terms. But friends and family have taken up pieces of the mantle in his absence. I feel loved, and, yes, that makes me cry as well. Dumb hormones.
I hope that viewing my journey and seeing how the staff have supported and stood by me throughout shows why I think they are such heroes. Beck talking with me when the miscarriage was diagnosed, chatting with me while I have the blood drawn, laughing at my jokes while I get inseminated like a zoo animal—these people are amazing and I see why the mothers and fathers they’ve helped come back to show them the final results of all they do. They make it bearable. They make it less lonely. They remove the fear. Their compassion heals. Their work makes success.
The women who have struggled through this journey already are like goddesses to me, their partners as well. It isn’t easy, and it often ends in heartbreak. To all the ladies on the road: Baby Dust, as they say.
And, to my friends and family, I love you. Thank you. Let’s keep on this journey and see the results together and celebrate.