The Shallow End Sucks, Too

According to, 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?

30 thoughts on “The Shallow End Sucks, Too”

  1. What a lovely post. I’m in awe of your dealing with your sister and 15 being pregnant while you were in the throes of trying. I’m struggling with similar questions myself. While it took us 2 years and 3 IUIs to conceive, after reading so many other infertility blogs, I realize just how lucky we were. And I too want to reach out and offer support – I feel the strongest connection with others who have dealt with, or are still dealing with infertility, but I don’t want to leave out the the part of me that’s now a mom. Let me know if you figure it out.

  2. Hi, I just found your blog on Stirrup Queens website and I read your latest post and couldn’t help but comment. Coming from someone who has been dealing with IF for 3 years with no diagnosis and 3 failed attempts at Clomid, this was one of the most heartfelt and genuine posts I’ve seen in a long time. I don’t know what it’s like to be a mom, but to know that there are moms out there that have been where I’ve been and who can ~still~ sympathize and feel my pain even though they’ve succeeded…is just, beyond words. It’s really very comforting and I guess all I wanted to say was….thank you.

  3. Ann, I know that I am not the only one who has similar feelings, but it is comforting to finally have a real vs. a hypothetical one with someone who can relate.
    I took a quick read through the last few entries of your blog last night and I can COMPLETELY relate to what you’ve said. Let’s be sure to keep in touch, k?

  4. Shayna,
    I will think of you specifically whenever I say my silent prayers for those who are still in the struggle. It means so very much to me to know that my words have brought to you some level of comfort. I hope you do not mind if I follow along with you and hope that there are brighter days ahead.

  5. Absolutely, I do not mind at all. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for thinking about me, it means so very much to me. I will keep you in my prayers as well. After all, IF sisters are ~always~ IF sisters no matter what.
    I hope you don’t mind that I added you to my favorite bloggers! =)

  6. Do I MIND? Hell, I’m honored! ๐Ÿ™‚ I started reading your blog earlier today (really, I should be teaching but I am too distracted and excited today) and I like your witty style. I was laughing at some of your personality descriptions because I see some of the same qualities in myself. ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. I was just re-reading this post, which probably left me speechless when I read it before. I have to agree it is so honest and heartfelt and touching. I can see where your empathy comes from, you articulate it so well.
    many thanks for all of your support. ~luna

  8. Hi Moxie!
    Thanks for visiting me at my blog…I know this is one of your older posts…but it really touched me, and I had to comment on it. It means a lot that someone who might be considered “cured” of IF (is there any such thing, lol) is still so heavily involved in the IF community, offering support to us newbies…because we really need it! I really enjoy reading stories of those who have overcome IF but are still sympathetic towards those of us still in the trenches – it gives me a lot of hope, and I hope that one day when I cross over to the other side that I can still be as supportive to those still struggling.

  9. You know, I have read your blog on and off for a while now, and just discovered this. It is absolutely beautiful and eloquent! English teacher? I think the world of you for the surrogacy. The gift of life, what an amazing thing to do.

  10. You are an incredibly amazing woman! I am a blubbering mess here after reading your blog. My husband and I have been trying to concieve for 2 years (with no assistance yet, but going soon), and after reading your stories I feel a renewed sense of hope, as well as a desire to look into surrogacy should I ever find that I CAN concieve.
    thank you!

  11. What an awesome post, you capture the beast that is infertility very well.
    Thanks for stopping by my blog and I look forward to reading more of yours!

  12. You captured so much of my own experience, too.
    There are no winners in the Pain Olympics, or at least there shouldn’t be. Your open heart and your compassion (as well as your obvious other gifts to people) have helped many people in all depths of the IF pond.

  13. It seems to me that the question that ends this post is proof enough that your heart’s intention is more than sufficient to transcend what you describe here as “wading.” Lori is right – there are no winners in the Pain Olympics – only those who use their experiences to transform their own hearts and by extension the rest of the world. Something you have clearly done, countless times over. Thank you for sharing this post again through the Creme.

  14. Thank you for sharing this post with Creme. I seriously loved it.
    Your voice is such an important one, please share it openly and freely, it couldn’t possibly bring agony, only comfort.
    Best wishes for 2009…

  15. Here from the Creme.
    I struggle with this, too. Though I had 3 years of IF, every procedure known to man (well, using our own stuff, every procedure) including 2 IVF’s and a FET….I still feel like that’s “not much” compared to what many have to deal with. And heck, we COULD and DID and also did adoption, so what do I have to say? And then with the kids, I feel like…do people want to hear about it? You know? But I just carry on with my blog and try to support others. That’s really all there IS to do, you know? Just keep being there, not mentioning too much except in your own space.
    I was interested to read your story because we were the young infertiles, too. I mean, heck, if we started right now we’d STILL be the younger ones as I’m only soon to be 25. So I felt you on the whole young-and-not-happening sentiment.
    I’m glad it happened for you. ๐Ÿ™‚ It’s not the pain olympics, after all, it doesn’t matter if you took 10 years or 2…really.

  16. Here from the Creme. I love this post just as much on reading it a second time. I love rereading your posts. Your conversation with 15 – oh, that must have been hard. and yeah the young thing and the God thing get to me too.

  17. You wrote beautifully about a place I have been at for far too long.
    And to be completely honest – I need to hear your story. I need to know I can come out of this nightmare on top. I need to be reminded of what I am doing it for.
    Thank you so much . . .

  18. Here from the Creme:
    I’ve seen you post a few times on my blog but never knew your story. Its great that you were able to overcome your two years of trying to go on to be a surrogate.

  19. Wow – you took the words right out of my mouth really applies.
    You cannot believe the looks I get when people find out I dealt with infertility – six kids and all. Their jaws drop when I tell them I was pg 13 times – the first 11 were all fertility drug babies. I just don’t look the part right? You know, I was actually ticked and a little embarrassed when suddenly I was ovulating on my own at the age of 36 and got caught, by surprise. Why? Well, I was worried what my infertile friends would think! Felt like I had betrayed them in a sense. Felt like a fraud. Even though I knew what bbts, self injections, overstimmed ovaries and miscarriage after miscarriage after miscarriage, etc felt like. Knowing how unfair it was to be handed an inequity in not being able to get pg like the other 90% could and did, and how unfair and inequitable life could be, even in that already unfair 10%.
    Thanks for being so honest and open.
    Creme de la creme 2008

  20. I want you to know that as an infertile woman of almost 2 years now, (and after 2 years with my old OBGYN i’m finding out that i have all the symptoms of UNDIAGNOSED PCOS–which i have now been tested for and will know the outcome next week) and your words, even KNOWING that youre a mother of four and surrogate of another….your words brought light and comfort to me today.
    You’re not the woman who was once infertile and has blacked out all her memories of the pain, frustration, rage, hurt, curse words, and trauma of the years of trying to no avail. You’re still sensitive and caring towards us who are in so deep over our heads. You’re beautiful and i am so appreciative of that. If you dont mind i will stop by and check your blog out on and off. You’re a great encouragement to me.
    Lots of Love from the Realm of Infertility!

  21. I’m one of those women that’s moved on from infertility treatments to the world of foster/adoption. It’s amazing how many things I can relate to in this post. So glad to hear I’m not the only one that kept a stash of negative pregnancy test – seriously what were we thinking there? Thank you for your blog and this post in particular!

  22. Moxie I am so glad you wrote this. You know I loves ya.
    I’d rather, as an FIM, hear the words that you can totally relate, than you stay silent. It gives you one more connection to the woman you are already connected to via surrogacy for the love and wanting to help create a family.
    It is rare that a surrogate experiences infertility so you have even more experience and empathy on your side, which is always a good thing.
    Half of a Duo… the grey lady and you know who I am.

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