According to Resolve.org, infertility is defined as:
a disease or condition of the reproductive system often diagnosed after a couple has one year of unprotected, well-timed intercourse or if the woman suffers from multiple miscarriages. Infertility affects approximately 10% of the population.
I may not seem like I fit in with that 10%, me with my four children and a successful gestational surrogate IVF pregnancy, but I do. I spent more than two years trying to conceive naturally but failing miserably, then suddenly I became that woman, the hated one who actually did get pregnant on Clomid and – holy shit! – conceived twins, too. I’ll wait while you gather used Repronex and progesterone vials and negative pregnancy tests to throw at me.
I once had a collection of negative pregnancy tests – close to three years’ worth. Frank and I decided to have children much earlier than we had originally planned, thanks largely to his early 1998 diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis. Understandably freaked out, I read everything I possibly could about MS and was scared out of my mind, especially when report after report said that MS could affect men’s fertility. MS is unpredictable and affects each patient differently. We had no way to predict how MS would manifest itself in Frank. Out of fear that somewhere in the future Frank might be so affected by the disease that he wouldn’t be able to do all those physical “Dad” things that fathers do with their children, we decided that we would try to conceive when I was a mere 20 years old and Frank was 23 (by then we had been married for 2 years).
Birth control ditched, we
gleefully foolishly really effin’ stupidly thought, “This time next year, we’ll be parents!”
Two years later we were still trying, and I was getting tired. The basal thermometer, months of cycle charts, and boxful of negative pregnancy tests (why I kept them, I don’t know) all jeered, “You idiot! Did you really think it would be that easy?” Something obviously was not working. I was quite sure that it was my body that was defective, but I was not willing to admit it. Rather, I had hopes that the problem wasn’t so bad that it would make it impossible for me to conceive without intervention. I had a history of long cycles and light periods. I would go 2-3 months without having a cycle, and when I did, it was always more like spotting and lasted for not more than 3 or 4 days. I know that now to be breakthrough bleeding from anovulatory cycles.
Despite my body being the one to show signs of being a human snafu, I pleaded with Frank to get a semen analysis. He finally went, and a few days later he returned from a follow-up visit with the urologist boasting, “The doc said that with as many fertile and active and healthy sperm that I have, you should have been pregnant ten times over by now!” Uuuummm. That’s good news. I think. Damn.
I secretly tried to console myself with all of the teeth-gritting crap that people told me: “You’re young, it will happen when it’s the right time,” or “God will bless you when He’s ready,” or “Stop trying so hard,” or “Just relax” or “blah blah blah blah blah”. Whatever.
That “young” thing and “God” thing and “time” thing really got under my skin as a paper-thin, flimsy possible cause for not conceiving. Somewhere inside I had the small belief that since I was only 20, then 21, then 22, and when I started trying to conceive I technically still had another year left to go of college, then maybe, possibly, perHAPS I wasn’t getting pregnant because God didn’t think that I was at a time and place in my life to be ready for motherhood. So I thought to myself, “I’ll finish my degree and start teaching, and if by then I STILL haven’t gotten pregnant, I will go to see a doctor.”
I chose to attend the evening class program at my college so that I could work during the day full-time in the school system. Speaking from the “career preparedness” point of view, doing that was one of the best decisions I ever made because I gained more experience working than I ever did from the formal study of Education. I worked as a paraprofessional at a middle school and also at my high school alma mater as the assistant band director/color guard director. Speaking from the “there are pregnant teenagers all around me” point of view, in some respects working in the school system during the Days of the Empty Uterus royally sucked. Imagine, if you will, this little vignette:
Setting: High school band room office, after rehearsal
The cast: Me on day ??? in the middle of yet another freakishly long cycle and a student, age 15.
15: Ummm, Mrs. B? I need your help.
Me: What’s wrong ?
15: (lip trembling) I’m so scared…I don’t know what to do.
Me: Honey, just tell me what’s wrong and let’s try to figure it out together.
15: (exploding into a mess of tears and falling into my arms) Oh, God, she’s going to KILL me. I’m PREGNANT and I don’t know how it happened but I am ohmigodwhatamIgoingtoDOIjustCAN’TbePREGNANT!
Me: (Shit) … Okay, 15, just breathe. Try to calm down. How late are you? Have you actually taken a test?
15: I don’t know. I’m like, maybe three weeks late or something like that. I’ve taken, like, three tests. HERE (shoves blaring pink lines in my face) they are. (more wailing ensues)
Me: (wow. those things really can get two lines. shit shit) Yes, I seee…
15: Mrs. B, please, PLEASE can you help me tell me mom? PLEASE!?! I think maybe it might be easier if you’re there with me. Please, Mrs. B, will you?
Me: (shiiiiiitttt) When your mom comes to pick you up, come with her back to my office. I’ll help you tell your mom and I’ll be here for you.
And I did. And I was. And her mother didn’t kill her and was surprisingly understanding. And then I went home and ate a pint of jamocha almond fudge ice cream and some Cheetos and I cried until the snot crusted to Frank’s shoulder.
Then a few months later, my sister found out at the start of her senior year that she was pregnant. Frank was the one to break the news to me. I should have known something was wrong by the way he steeled himself, took a deep breath, held my hand and said, “Babe, I have something to tell you.” When he dropped the bomb, I broke away from him, fled to the bathroom, threw myself on the floor and cried for a solid two hours. Insult to injury – I discovered that my period had started before I left the bathroom.
The pregnancies of 15 and my sister had completely thrown my lame-assed, half-believed theory, which I later realized was cleverly-disguised hope, completely out of the window. I was a little “older.” I was happily married. I had a newly-begun career as a teacher and still, no baby. But my sister and 15, they were VERY young. They were unmarried. They were STILL IN FREAKING HIGH SCHOOL! Clearly, God didn’t give a flip about your status in life when it came to motherhood. So what the hell was so wrong with ME? Was I not deserving? What was I doing wrong?
Finally pissed off/confused/spent/tired of ignoring my problem enough to do something about it, I went to the doctor. Not even an RE. Just a typical OB with fertility specialist etched in italics next to his name. He looked at my stacks of charts and said, “2.5 years of unprotected sex. No pregnancy. You’re anovulatory. Take this Clomid, blah, blah, blah.” First cycle, no haps. Second cycle – BAM! – twins. Immensely overjoyed and relieved is a gross understatement. But there was, and still is, a part of me that feels almost ashamed that it had been so easy for us knowing that there were so many others who were not as lucky.
You see, I had found comfort and solace on the Internet when I discovered a message board for women who were struggling just like me. They understood why the sight of a pregnant woman was enough to screw up a perfectly good Saturday. They understood the twisted desire to read any and all things related to pregnancy, knowing full well that it would be the cause of a bitchy bad mood. They understood the idea of measuring time in cycle days and dpo’s and dpiui’s and dpt’s. Back then, at least in the corner of the Internet I frequented that was reserved for infertiles, there was not much distinction in which part of that infertile 10% that you fell in. We were all the same: those of us trying for more than a year without intervention, those of us with repeat miscarriages, those of us doing IUI, those of us doing IVF, those of us with failed cycles under our barren belts and negative pregnancy tests secreted away. We cried together, we lashed out together at those assclowns who randomly dropped in telling us how selfish we were not to “just” adopt, and we collectively cheered on those who crossed the battlefield and made it safely into realm of a healthy pregnancy.
Eventually we all moved on to whichever virtual environment had become the most relevant, be they pregnancy or parenting boards, adoption boards, or child-free living boards. We kept in touch with each other but not in touch with the general trend of the online infertility community, pocketing our individual histories of infertility to revist and reflect on when and where appropriate.
Yes, I have four children. Once the problem was figured out (I was later given a full and proper diagnosis of PCOS), I achieved pregnancy easily. I can tell, though, that as I age my PCOS gets a little more pronounced. Kaelyn took three cycles and 150 mgs of Clomid to conceive, whereas the twins and Jordan took 50mgs and only one or two cycles. Not conceiving Kaelyn on that third cycle would have bought me a golden ticket straight to low-dose stims and IUI. I do sometimes still feel a little cheated that we couldn’t conceive without a call to the doctor, a probe with the weenie-wand, and a shot in the ass. Though we have been copiously blessed with four children and do not plan to have any more, it is the awareness of my body’s inability to conceive without intervention, rather than its ability to conceive with intervention that keeps me so closely connected to how I felt in those years, and also the connection that I feel to the women still in the trenches.
This connection is what has prompted me to read infertility blogs with avid consumption (and also to be a surrogate, but that is another post). I discovered infertility blogs a couple of years ago and fell headfirst into them. One quick observation that I made was the change in climate towards infertility. The infertile label was no longer “one size fits all.” I completely understand why. The pain that I still feel (because you never completely lose it all, no matter how many kids you have) is very different from the pain of those who’ve suffered recurrent miscarriages, or failed transfers, or stillbirths.
I don’t know the depth of those pains and I will not pretend that I do, but I know something of the substance. This ocean of infertility has many depths and the waters are black and icy no matter if you’ve only been in ankle-deep or are completely immersed, drowning and flailing for the dangerous thing called hope.
What I struggle with is this: how do I offer my support to those who are treading the deepest, darkest waters of infertility when I have only been wading along the shorelines? So many times I have wanted to say, I can feel this cold, too, and I can feel your pain, but I know that my position on this frigid edge can cause more agony rather than comfort, so I find myself often stuck between two worlds, opting instead to say nothing.
How do I reach out with the part of me that is infertile (subfertile, perhaps???) without the part of me that is a mother causing more pain?