I didn’t know whether or not to share this.
Infertility seems to be a “third rail” for social conversation. It’s an awkward and personal discussion which creates confusion, hurt feelings and mixed emotions for everyone.
That’s why I have to write about it. But it’s taken me over four years to tell this story. I’m hoping it’s cathartic to me and to others.
The first thing you should know, is that everyone’s story is different. The journey, the emotions, the years of after-effects, they bare only a thread of similarity from one story to the next. This is not every woman’s infertility story, but it is mine.
I live out loud, but this is one story only a few people know.
Everything is Possible.
I meet my husband in my early ‘30s. I’ve spent my entire adult life PREVENTING pregnancy, so when he says “I’d like 4 or 5 kids”, I chuckle at my own wit as I callously respond “not with this uterus you won’t.”
I really don’t think of myself as a mum. I am lot of things, but “Mum” isn’t one of them. But as I fall more in love and as I see him with children, I begin to see how having children with this man could be exactly what I want too.
We get married. We move 3,500 miles. We need a break from major life events. We hit the “pause” button. We enjoy married life, together. I nest.
Listen: The Mamamia Out Loud team vehemently disagree about age and fertility. Passionate debate ensues. Post continues after audio.
Finally, we decide to “try.” This is a moment of clarification. Only adults “try” to get pregnant.
When you’re “trying”, the key advice is not to think about it too much.
“Let it happen.”
“Are you tracking?”
“Don’t stress out.”
“Are you eating right and taking prenatal vitamins?”
While casually trying, you keep a cadre of items at your bedside, a thermometer, a calendar and a pen and paper to document temperatures and other metrics.
After trying “casually” for a couple of years, we finally make the dreaded journey to an infertility specialist. I am particularly nervous about this. I’ve had friends go through this and I am still trying to wrap my head around the idea of being a mum.
My visit to the doctor does little to ease my internal unrest. To say that my fertility doctor is a self-righteous donkey’s ass is somehow inadequate. He questions my efforts, my body book-keeping, my dedication to pregnancy. I feel foolish for asking questions and “part whole” for being there at all. It is determined our best chance of success is IVF, but we are warned before we write the deposit, “it would not be easy.”
Entering into the infertility zone is like walking into an unfamiliar dark room and shutting the door.
It becomes obvious that IVF is a system designed to bring babies into the world, I am but the delivery mechanism. My body is the vessel and it is clearly, at least from the medical standpoint, completely distinct from my head and my heart. There is no room for those shenanigans, this is serious business and you will not deviate by emoting.
Everything you thought you knew about getting pregnant is suddenly woefully naive. I begin to realise that getting pregnant is such a long shot, it’s a miracle it happens at all. Acronyms litter my language, doctor appointments dominate my day several days of the week. I am no longer in charge of my life. My life is dedicated to an ethereal, elusive idea. The divine infertility specialist will tell me what to do and when; and I WILL do it. Medications pile up.
My life is dominated by my body and an idea.
My husband is incredibly supportive of me. But I am becoming something he doesn’t recognise: obsessed, angry and scared. In a quest for community, I jump onto infertility forums and I am confronted with a terrifying reality: many IVF attempts are unsuccessful. Many people try numerous times.
My sense of self and independence slipping, I will do as I’m told and if I don’t…“it is all but guaranteed you won’t have a baby.”
I feel gripped with fear.
Fear of failure.
Fear of success.
Fear of myself and my emotions.
Getting a hormone shot sounds so inane. How many shots have you had in your life. No big deal, right?
But it is cataclysmic.
Everyday I start with a massive hormone shot in my stomach. I imagine it driving itself through my bloodstream straight into my internal lady parts.
I have night sweats, nightmares and insomnia, I feel physically sick and mentally deranged. I begin to dread pregnancy if this is what it feels like.
Through the infertility forums I find out my hormone dosages are on the high-end of what’s considered ethical. I feel let down and alone, my doctor never told me this or prepared me for the effects.
Disjointed by hormones I wake up crying every morning. I’m fighting with friends and my husband. People tell me to do yoga, but not the hot yoga I like, drink more water, meditate, don’t eat sushi (my favourite food), don’t drink soda, take prenatal vitamins. I am not pregnant, but I must treat myself as if I am. I am caught between reality and fantasy.
Fertility experts abound, especially women who get pregnant easily. I plod on.
Later shots are administered by my husband, who HATES giving them to me because they are so painful to me. The sadistic morning needle ritual begins as I brace myself against the counter, look up to the ceiling and begin a mini-breathing meditation to get through the shot. My rear side looks like a giant eggplant.
Once again, I refer to the IVF forums and find out that having this kind of bum bruising is not normal. Why can’t anything in this process be normal for me? I can’t gauge whether I’m having any of the dangerous symptoms described because I feel like total and utter shit all the time.
At the doctor’s office. Phones ringing, a hushed sense of rush. Soothing neutral tones and comfortable chairs with women who, like me, won’t make eye contact even though we are all there for a single purpose.
The calm exterior masks the animal smell of desperation.
Now I am waiting in the sterile examination room alone. I’m waiting. It’s eerily quiet. I’m undressed, legs in stirrups, with an over-excited air conditioner blowing right at me, staring longingly at my clothes; there is nothing to read. I’m waiting. Alone.
I close my eyes and I wake up 40 minutes later, when the nurse comes in to check on me and apologise for the wait. In this world, where your future, your dreams, are in the hands of these people, I am the Stepford patient. I feel the need to make them feel better, so I say “No problem,” even thought it is a problem. A huge fucking problem, I have somewhere to be, but obviously nowhere nearly as important as this.
Just then, Dr. Donkey’s Ass himself sweeps into the room, explaining that there was an emergency. I show them both my bruising, they look at me with deep concern and confusion. Through a series of questions I learn I’ve been using the wrong size needle for my shots. I’m using the smaller gauge needle, which counter-intuitively, is the larger needle. I’ve been getting my hormone shots with a needle the size of a biopsy needle. A biopsy needle every day. This is why I have to brace myself every single morning. This is why I wake up crying. This is why I have to do breathing exercises. And this is why I have eggplant butt.
I’m so angry. I’m so fucking angry, my chest is collapsing and it’s hard to breathe. Who is my advocate through all this? Who do I turn to in confusion? The forums? Is that the best I’ve got? Other faceless women who have been through this themselves so many times they’re self identity is tied to the experience?
I remember the session I had with one of the nurses, in a tiny, airless conference room with female anatomy posters on the wall, about administering shots. I remember my confusion and her friendly, but rushed responses. I remember when she was explaining the shots, the needles and the medicine mixtures and she kept saying, “You know.” And I kept responding “No, I don’t. This is new to me, explain it again.” I think back to how she kept saying “It’s not that hard, you’ll figure it out.”
I didn’t figure it out. I didn’t know.
As the doctor draws a circle on my butt and shows me the needles I should have used, I wonder why no one did this for me when I first started? Or maybe at any of the dozens of appointments I’ve had. Why does the factory only slow down for emergencies? When will my situation be a priority? Why was I left alone to figure this out and wander through the ethers of the internet to make sense of my experience?
On my way out.
As I’m paying for the visit, the nurses who told me I would “figure it out” find out I’m using the wrong size needle, they look at me with horror and ask how I’d done it? I take it as a badge of courage. I’m angry, but rushing to soothe them. Am I practising motherhood already?
There is nothing left to be done but wait.
Panic. This is our chance. I want twins. Two kids and done. I know: unlike many others on the infertility forums, we can’t afford to do three, six or more rounds of IVF. About this time, I begin to remember my husband, the “I want 4 or 5 kids” guy I desperately love. I begin to wonder if he’ll want to stay married to me. Will get 5, 10, 15 years down the line and decide he wants to be a Dad before he dies? I begin to feel that I might be the source of great sadness and loss for him.
The waiting is over.
An uncomfortable reality: we are unsuccessful.
We are failures.
Despite my high hormones, I produce not 15, not 10, but 3 pathetic eggs and two survive the procedure. Neither “stick.” My eggs are weakling and my uterus is “inhospitable.” I find no comfort in forum stories of women on lesser doses producing 2 and 3 times that many, ensuring them frozen eggs and future hormone-shot shortened opportunities. My doctor tells me to come back and see him when we’re ready. But I know.
We. Are. Done.
The door to the dark room we’ve entered has been permanently shut.
The “Other” Room
After my husband assures me he won’t leave me because I’ve ripped him off of one of life’s great adventures, I sleep. A dark part of me wonders if it matters what you do with your body at all because it has it’s own plan and destiny.
I realise, I’m in mourning, for what I didn’t want, then I did want and now can’t have. I feel guilty — was I emotionally ambivalent about having kids and THAT’S why I can’t get pregnant? Did I somehow allow my fears about being a mom prevent my body from doing its one evolutionary job?
There are books to prepare you for pregnancy and parenthood. There is nothing to prepare you for not becoming a parent. This room is empty and quiet.
I’m unprepared for the next stage of not having a baby.
Actually. Everyone is unprepared for this room. No one knows how to act, comfort or conform. Every door is opened tentatively.
Well-meaning friends search for an appropriate response to this stage of pregnancy.
We’re reminded that we can keep on trying on our own. We hear many inspirational stories of couples who get pregnant unexpectedly, even after many failed IVF attempts.
“Will you adopt?” Many children around the world need loving families and we would make great parents, or so we’re told.
I start answering every “adoption” question with “Well, I mean….we’ll think about it.” Mostly because I don’t want to feel like a selfish, self-absorbed genetic snob when I say what I’m really thinking: “We wanted kids with each other. We wanted OUR kids.”
Kids with his eyes and my laugh.
Kids with his dad’s chin and my Mom’s curly hair.
Toe-heads like we were.
Friends who know what we’ve gone through start to feel guilty or nervous about telling me about their pregnancies. I find out about one of my friend’s pregnancies on Facebook after seeing pictures of her baby shower. I call to congratulate, and she confesses she just wasn’t sure how to tell me.
Not for my loss, but for my distance from this experience.
I absolutely WANT to celebrate pregnancies with my friends.
I absolutely want to hold their children, cuddle them and coo with them. And I do not want anyone feeling sorry for me when I do it.
I get very clear on something: this journey is hard one everyone, not just my husband and I. I realise too, this experience doesn’t have to define me or my marriage. I read advice a father gives his infertile daughter when she discusses with him all the things she’s going to miss out on without kids, “Honey, you’ll have a rich full life. It will be filled with DIFFERENT experiences.” I imagine my own Dad would have said the same thing to me.
I hold on to that. I nuzzle it. I start to feed the idea of what a life without children looks like.
I start to think about this room. I start to fill it with ideas, knick-knacks of potential experiences.
I want all of the adventure which is included in my journey. Even if that journey doesn’t include my own children.
There is no map for the next 18 years. It is up to my husband and I to set that course. Redefined, but no less relevant.
Pirates set courses. On unmoored ships. That sail into waters unknown. Perhaps we will be pirates.
Every moment with a small child is a spark of joy. Every once in awhile, I look at kids and I feel a hollowness.
But I resist it. I don’t want to be pulled back into darkness.
I want celebration. I want laughter.
I begin to think of myself as every kid’s fun auntie. Part of the village. The village gets bigger every year.
The room expands and gets stuffed with echoes of laughter. My refrigerator begins to look the way I imagined it would look with kids: Notes in little people’s hand, magnets tenuously gripping rainy-day art projects.
Pictures of me with kids, laughing, swimming, tickling.
There is nothing empty about this journey.
It is not childless.
It’s just different.
We are a family my husband and I and our two dogs.
And our village.
We are not half. We are not missing. We are not without.
We are complete.
We are where we are supposed to be.
In a room with a refrigerator shellacked with dreams.
We are pirates mapping out our unknowns.
We are in a village.
We are grounded but not restrained.
We. Are. Not. Done.
We. Are. Good.
Tara Coomans is a Marketing Thinker, Tinkerer & Brainstormer. Social Media Blogger & Strategist. Creative & Analytical. Foodie. Risk taker. Bubble blower.
This article was originally published on Medium. It has been republished here with full permission.
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