Before getting married, we’d talked about starting a family and decided to wait six months before getting pregnant. We knew adjusting to marriage, especially at our age, could possibly be tricky and we wanted to “just be us,” even if only for a quick minute. Because of course, “at our age,” we also knew we didn’t have a lot of time to wait either. During those first six months, I started taking vitamins and folate, and tracked my cycles religiously to get really good at knowing the exact day I was the most fertile.
So, like I said, when we started trying, it never crossed my mind that it wouldn’t happen on that night. Call me naive, but it didn’t phase me when I read that as a woman in my late-30s, we only had a 15% chance of conceiving even on my most fertile day. I just figured we would. Which, in hindsight is so bizarre, because I’ve always said my biggest fear was that I wouldn’t be able to have children–as if I’d always known that I’d struggle with infertility. And though I’m optimistic by nature, I’m never one who truthfully, deep down believes that things will work out just the way I want them to, try as I might. And try, I do.
We were kneeling on top of the bed, facing each other, ready to get going, when I thought, “Oh! We should pray first!” This was us starting our family! Kind of big life moment! And as a believing woman, I felt it only right to thank God for our love and our home and our marriage and to bless us as we bring our children into the world. I tried to make it quick, bless my poor husband’s heart, but I couldn’t help but pour out my heart to the heavens. Tears streamed down my face as I expressed how excited I was to become a mother, how thankful I was to be a woman, and to please bless our little babies waiting to come to us. And amen! Okay! Let’s go!
Even though I know things like gravity don’t really matter in conceiving, I wanted to do everything possible to get those swimmers to my eggs. That meant: my hips elevated on a pillow, no lube, missionary only, and stay on my back for as long as possible. I laid there for an hour after we were done, speaking kind words to the sperm inside me, encouraging them to be strong. It’s weird, I know. But hey–all matter is connected and I totally believe in the benefits of expressing encouragement and positivity to all things, especially the things we want to feel our love. And I really needed that sperm to feel my love. Looking back, it’s all so comical. (Except when it’s not. Because, you know–infertility.) We kept at it every other day through my ovulation. I was nothing, if not committed.
That first pregnancy test had been waiting in the drawer for months. I was beside myself with excitement. Pee, set the timer, wait. I forced myself to look at the wall, not the stick, for fear of jinxing it. My alarm finally sounded, and I picked up the stick, but there was no double pink line. How could that be? I waited another five minutes. Maybe I tried too early, I thought. I took another test four days later. Still no pink line.
I buried my disappointment with hope. Infertility was still not even in the realm of possibility. Only thirty percent of couples get pregnant in the first month, I told myself. There is nothing to be sad about. We will try again next month and of course we’ll get pregnant. But the next month came, and with it, the same results. I repeated the same hopeful words of encouragement to myself. By the third negative, my blind, optimistic hope was wavering. And yet–I still didn’t contemplate infertility.
Whomever said, “Don’t lose hope!” has definitely never had to take a pregnancy test month after month with no positive outcome. Hope feels less like a buoy and more like an enemy to the trying-to-conceive woman. Quite frankly, hope doesn’t float. It sucks. I have never known a worse disappointment than getting my hopes up every month, working hard to “just have fun!” and “stay positive” because gosh that’s what everyone tells you to do, and then having those hopes dashed with a negative stick.
But where my hope straggled, my husband’s jumped in. He was a champion of positivity. Even still, in the fourth month, I refused to take the test early. The first day of my period came, but there was no blood. For someone whose cycle is (and has been for 20 years) so regular they could run a train schedule by it, this brought a glimmer of possibility back into our efforts. I eagerly took the pregnancy test. No double pink line. I went to bed at 6:00 p.m. and cried for three hours.
The reality of my age was settling on me like a six ton elephant. And yet, I simultaneously felt stupid, insensitive, and dramatic. I have numerous friends who’ve dealt with the pain of infertility for far longer than me. And here I was, four months in, losing hope faster than you could say diaper. I pulled myself together and tried to repeat the statistics in my head. Eighty percent of couples get pregnant within six months. My period came six days late that month. Talk about a cruel joke.
In the fifth month, I wouldn’t even let hope in the bathroom. My husband said, “This is the month!” I said, “Yeah right. I’m not.” I took the test. I was right.
When the sixth negative came, the statistics in my head changed. If you are over 35 and have not conceived after 6 months of purposeful intercourse, contact your health care provider to discuss the possibility of infertility testing. I called the doctor. She did an ultrasound and blood work and immediately referred me to a fertility clinic. “Your hormone levels are concerning,” she said. “This could be causing infertility.”
This is where the party got started. Ha. Not really. The fertility clinic took so much blood on that first visit, my arm had a 4-inch bruise for a week. Then they did a vaginal ultrasound. Super fun. (Again. Not really.) The only positive was that the doctor seemed surprised to see that my egg count was higher than she expected. The problem, she said, seemed to be my poorly-performing thyroid and bad egg quality. Abysmal, in fact. My word, not hers. Apparently I’m perimenopausal. At 39. If that doesn’t make you feel sexy, I don’t know what will. Although, I do feel more justified in wearing the granny nightgowns and house dresses I love so much.
Beyond the egg quality, she also needed to run a test to see if my lady parts were even working. I wish with all my heart that I could block the memory of the hysterosalpingogram (HSG) out of my mind. The doctor “prepared” me by saying it would hurt like labor. Call me crazy, but that’s an odd comparison for a woman facing possible infertility, bless her heart, but I went with it and lamazed (and swore) my way straight through that nightmare. At least after labor, you have a baby. After an HSG all you have is an aching uterus and a stream of dye pouring out of your vagina onto the floor. “Um, I’m leaking,” I believe is what I said as the green liquid puddled around my feet no matter how many kegels I did.
Then her words started registering. She told me there were growths in my uterus and that while they likely weren’t cancerous, there was still a possibility that they could be. They’d need to be surgically removed and sent to pathology. Also, the dye she shot into my uterus did not flow into my fallopian tubes, but she could not determine if that was caused by the growths blocking the opening of my tubes or if my tubes were indeed blocked. They’d have to do another HSG after removing the growths to see. This is where I began to cry. And by cry, I mean sob. This was the moment when it finally hit me that infertility was now a part of my story. I walked out rolling the words around in my head like a ferris wheel. Cancer. Infertility. Cancer. Infertility.
I sat in the car not knowing what to think. Infertility? How? Why? The statistics in my head morphed again. One in eight couples experiences infertility.
I know there are women who have never had a desire for children. But me? I have always wanted to be a mother. Despite any professional success I’ve had, there has always been this other thing–motherhood–that lingered … waiting. Married for the first time at 38, I always seem to be waiting. You’d think I’d get used to the waiting. (I don’t.)
The day of my surgery marked nine months since the day we started trying to conceive. I contemplated how I should have been going to the hospital to deliver a baby. Instead I was going to the hospital to see if I could even ever have one–oh and to see if I had cancer too.
Fast forward to now. It’s been a year since we started trying. They removed ten growths from my uterus and redid the HSG in surgery. (Thank you baby Jesus, I wasn’t awake that time.) I don’t have cancer but my fallopian tubes are shut tight for no good reason and no efforts to open them during surgery proved successful. I still have “abysmal” egg quality and we’re slowly getting my thyroid to function where it’s supposed to. But the bottom line is: I am infertile. The only hope (stupid hope) I have of ever getting pregnant is through IVF. So we’re preparing for IVF, because–well–because of that stupid hope.
I don’t know what the future holds for me and my husband. I have no idea how or if or where we’ll make or find our children. All the options–adoption, IVF, surrogacy–are so over-the-top expensive and none of them provide any guarantees. I should have known, no matter how much I plan or hope or believe, it never really works out. And yet … hope.