When I was newly pregnant and we started telling our close friends, one of them asked me a question right off the bat: have you written about it yet? The answer, until today, was no. I hadn’t. Where do I even start with this – our tenderest time, our most difficult story of infertility – and all while it’s still so fresh? It has daunted me every time I sat down to a keyboard, and so, I haven’t. But my friend was right, in the part she didn’t have to say explicitly. Writing is a part of my process, and so write about it I will. Here goes.
I do want to say something first, though. A couple somethings.
First, I am so, so grateful to be pregnant. We have a healthy baby on the way, and I truly could not be more over the moon to welcome her to our family. Acknowledging this hard stuff doesn’t negate that for a minute.
But second, getting pregnant didn’t magically fix our years of infertility (like I thought maybe it would). It exists, there in the background, a part of our life and our family. Writing about it and then sharing it is one way I’ve found helpful to process its existence.
Third, because it feels important for me to say out loud: I am not writing this so you will feel sorry for me. In fact, the reason I haven’t written about it before now is precisely that – I am still just a little bit fearful of the attention that may come. But I also think it’s something important to talk about. It’s a part of me and it feels disingenuous to leave it behind in the shadows as we breeze on past like it didn’t happen. So, here we are. Do with that what you will.
Not to spoil the ending, but as I sit here, I am rapidly approaching the third trimester of my first pregnancy.
Our baby girl is due in January. But we decided over 3 years ago, as newlyweds, that we wanted to have a baby. As my therapist so delicately puts it, our story doesn’t read like a romantic night out and one glass too many of chardonnay. Our story reads as follows, with significantly more math involved:
Nearly 3 years. 32 months of disappointment and negative outcomes. 1 OBGYN who ran some initial tests, found nothing exciting, and prescribed 5 rounds of fertility enhancing medications before sending us to a fertility specialist. 1 fertility specialist who ran countless additional tests, and suggested we try Intrauterine Insemination (IUI, or, to put it indelicately, the scientific version of the turkey baster method). 5 failed IUIs before we were presented with the option of In Vitro Fertilization, or IVF. Next came 1 egg retrieval (and I’m eternally grateful it was only one; producing a year’s worth of eggs in 1 cycle is no joke), which yielded enough embryos to move forward. Sprinkled in here let’s take note of several invasive vaginal procedures and 1 surgery to remove a polyp (likely caused by the medications used for egg retrieval) before we embarked on our first embryo transfer. 2 failed embryo transfers. 1 allergic reaction to a medication (not pretty), 1 new doctor, 3 rounds of intralipid infusion therapy (thought to boost immune system to stave off cells that may attack an embryo), and 1 completely horrific uterine biopsy – before, finally, our 3rd embryo transfer: this little unnamed peanut currently making her presence known by kicking me from the inside. 2 blood tests to confirm. 9 at-home pee tests because I honestly couldn’t believe it. Please also note, within this time period (counted directly from my calendar): 56 sessions of acupuncture; 37 transvaginal ultrasounds; 35 sessions with the aforementioned therapist; and 46 trips to the lab to be stuck for blood work. I wish I could have counted the shots (ooh, and the suppositories, those are fun), but that kind of math is truly beyond my skills.
Writing out the “math” is more for me than for anyone else (and a little bit to impress you because hey, I’m only human) – a record, of sorts, of the time I spent with infertility treatment as what essentially felt like a second job. One where you work really hard but they take all your money, but that’s neither here nor there. I have heard women talk about this differently; some are comfortable being called “warriors” and others balk at the term, offended. I’m somewhere in the middle, I think. Were there days when I felt like a freakin’ superhero? You bet there were. But most days, I just felt like a regular woman who wanted to have a baby. We did what we had to, and there’s really nothing extraordinary about that.
A few things I’d like to note about infertility, in no particular order:
I’ve gained a completely new understanding and appreciation for women. Fertility is not unique to me, and we are all faced with it in our own way. It’s the most personal, delicate thing, and everyone has different thoughts and struggles in relation to it. I’ve been privileged to walk alongside many women who struggled in their own ways, slowly feeling the weight of different math adding up in their heads. Women who had an easy time getting pregnant while women they loved struggled, who became wracked with guilt. Women who suffered miscarriages. Women who aren’t married yet but desperately want babies. The list could go on for days, and I am in awe of each of you, whatever the math looks like. Especially if you’re still adding. I see you.
The best emotion I can ascribe to infertility (though perhaps imperfectly) is grief. Infertility carries the same weight, the same ambiguous grey shape as grief often does. It is at once all-consuming and also necessary to continue on with regular life; the world keeps right on turning even though the doctor just called with bad news, again. It is not always tangible, specific loss, but also it is, or can be; it is also a loss of time, a loss of yourself, a loss of your hopes, and what you envisioned your family would look like. Sometimes the loss is tangible: the loss of your babies, or in our case, 2 embryos – potential babies we sent in with great hope and then 2 weeks later, wept for. I think this is what I mean when I say that being pregnant hasn’t “fixed” infertility for me. I have found it possible to be over the moon happy and still dealing with the complex grief of infertility at the same time. The two are not mutually exclusive, nor does one negate the other. That, for lack of better phraseology, just is what it is. And I will continue to deal with it, as is, for as long as is necessary.
Lastly, should you be presented with a loved one, or even a casual acquaintance, going through infertility or any adjacent fertility difficulty – please remember you are on the most sensitive ground. I don’t say this for entirely my own benefit, but for all of us who have made hard decisions, suffered losses, and put it out there. We all have different stories and different opinions and different leanings of one way or another. I don’t expect you to read this and think I made all the right choices. I expect some of you will think, 3 years is nothing! and compared to your math, that might be true. But what I can assume, having been on this side of things, is that we’re all doing our best to make it through a desperate and grief stricken struggle. One where we have very little control. As a supporter: be patient, be present, and listen. You can’t fix it. You can’t say the right thing to make it better. So do your best, take their cues, and get comfortable.
I’m grateful to all of those in my life who, during the last 3 years, have done their best; taken my cues; and gotten comfortable. Who have held my sensitive ground alongside me through desperation and grief, and who are available even now to sit in the juxtaposition of grief and unbelievable joy. And I’m grateful to you, all of you, for taking the time to read this. For holding a space for me to process and share. What a gift that is. Thanks, Internet! <3