In honor of Resolve and National Infertility Awareness Week, April 20-26.
Slowly. In through your nose, gently let it out through your mouth.
Why don’t we claim these chairs here for a little while? You look like you could use a tissue and a glass of water and someone to sit with right now.
Please don’t apologize for crying or being upset. You are definitely not alone.
How do I know this?
I could give you my statistics – cycles, types of treatments, diagnosis – but those are just numbers, acronyms, something I almost find external to myself.
Instead, let me tell you a story.
The thing I remember most about the day I was diagnosed is this: I was wearing a new sweater. I was really excited about it. Even though it was much too warm, I just had to pull it out and wear it to my doctor’s appointment. So there I was, sitting on one of those tables with the paper that crinkles every time you move and Dr. B is trying to explain to me what exactly my test results mean. “I never tell patients that they won’t ever conceive on their own,” she said, “because occasionally, it happens. But in my opinion, you will need medical treatment to conceive.”
The words crack through the air. Dr. B waits for my reaction. I am sitting, shifting slightly because a particularly annoying wrinkle in the paper is poking my leg, and I am thinking about my new sweater and how much I like it. I barely hear what she says and respond calmly: “Okay. So what happens next?”
I leave the office with a prescription for Provera and Clomid. Dr. B shoots what I think is a slightly worried look at me as I walk out because I’m taking this so calmly. I go to the BMV to renew my driver’s license because it’s three days before my 30th birthday and I have this new sweater I want to show off and it’s a beautiful day and of course everything’s going to be okay.
I get through the line at the BMV. Smile for the camera. Step out into the bright sunlight. Go home, sobbing, pull off the sweater which now feels hot, constraining, and itchy and stuff it into the bottom of my dresser, where it remains, crumpled and abandoned, to this day.
My husband and I are driving to go pick up his guitar after a few small repairs at a shop an hour away. It’s dark and cold, but the car is warm and we’re chatting about something forgettable when my phone rings. It’s Dr. B.
She tells me, kindly, gently, that she saw my ultrasound from this morning and that there were no follicles. The Femara isn’t working, just like the Clomid before it didn’t work. I need to see an RE, she’s done all she feels comfortable with at this point and thinks it’s important that I see someone who specializes in infertility if I want to continue treatment. Later, after hearing others in the infertility community talk or blog about difficulties in getting a referral to a specialist, I am grateful for her care in this matter.
I hang up the phone and start to cry. I cry the entire hour to the shop, sniffle red-eyed through supper, and cry the entire way home. My husband calls his parents, who we are close to, and we go to their house for hugs where I cry more.
At my first RE visit, I am assured that with drugs like Follistim, I am very likely to get pregnant. This is an excellent theory, given that I don’t ovulate. The problem is, this excellent theory meets the real life force of my ovaries, which don’t take to being stimulated. There are either too many follicles or too few. Even when we finally get a good number, the cycle ends with a disappointing negative and my period starting around my husband’s birthday. It doesn’t make for much of a celebration.
We decide to pull out all the stops and go IVF. We are both unsure and terrified when we see exactly how much money we’re spending – out of pocket, because our insurance doesn’t cover any of it. I cry at my pre-cycle appointment. I cry at nearly every follicle check because I am so worried something will go wrong. When two embryos are transferred, I almost cry with relief. Staring at the picture I’m handed of the embryos, I feel awe and hope.
“I’m pregnant!” I dance around the apartment. We are both so excited. We know there’s always that risk of miscarriage lurking in the background, but right now, we don’t care. We celebrate being pregnant for a few hours, allowing ourselves to tell friends and family and let them be happy with us.
Watching the tiny heart beat on the ultrasound monitor is a miracle. The room is dark, quiet. Even though the doctor and the ultrasound tech are in the room with us, it feels as if we are alone, watching that flicker on the screen that represents new life, a baby growing. For a little while, the fears go away and we simply marvel. We nickname the baby. My husband kisses my abdomen every night.
Sitting in that dark ultrasound room again, I bury my face in my hands. I think I’m sort of half-heartedly sobbing because I don’t know what else to do, but I’m so numb that I can’t feel anything at all. I hear a knock and the door opens and I know it’s the doctor coming in to confirm what I already know: there is no heartbeat any longer.
I don’t look up because I know what he’s going to say and even though I’ve already said it out loud twice myself, I know when he says it, it will be real in a way it wasn’t when I said it. I just sit there, my face in my hands, stubbornly refusing to acknowledge his presence.
I am surprised when he doesn’t say anything, just puts a hand on my shoulder and stands there in silence with me. He doesn’t try to speak to me, doesn’t rush me, doesn’t try to pretend the situation is anything other than what it is. I am grateful for this kindness. When I am finally ready, I raise my head to look at him.
“I’m so sorry,” he says quietly.
I read a lot when I get home from the hospital after my D and C, just as I read when I was first diagnosed and throughout my struggle. I find myself desperately needing to hear those other voices, stories both on blogs and also in real life. That they too struggled, fought. That I am far from alone.
These stories, they are gifts. They are the greatest gifts I can imagine. Even when they are nothing like mine, there are these little threads of common feeling, these moments that someone else will describe, and I will say “Yes!” because even if I have not experienced that exact moment, it evokes something deep inside, touches the truth.
Infertility is full of numbers, statistics, percentages. Success rates. Failure rates. Lab values. 15 eggs retrieved, 11 mature, 5 fertilized. More numbers, dollar signs as I sign the checks for treatment, for medications. There are statistics on numbers of orphans, of children adopted. There are the numbers of days, years, of waiting for treatment to work, of waiting for an adoption placement.
Yet it is not the numbers I remember.
It is the stories.
When I think of infertility, I hear words. I see faces. I remember them, the ones who got pregnant on their second IUI, the ones who had seven rounds of IVF, the ones who never took a child home, the ones who embraced their adopted children and families. The ones I rejoice for as they give birth or finalize an adoption. The ones who miscarried, whose babies live on in my heart and memory along with my own.
It is so easy to look at numbers and not see human beings. To look at the numbers and shrug, move on, discount them as ‘nobody I know’, ignore the need for better insurance coverage for treatments, for more understanding of adoption, for more support for everyone who struggles against infertility. To even condemn those who utilize infertility treatments, to cast aspersions on those who adopt. The stories, though, the stories have power. I am, perhaps, your neighbor, your friend, your co-worker, your family member. Suddenly, infertility is no longer something that happens to ‘nobody I know’, but is close, personal.
I tell my story with a dual purpose. I speak in an effort to help people understand infertility and its devastating effects. I speak to provide support for those who struggle with me, to put a light in the window signaling that I am a part of this community.
This, then, is the other thing I can do for you.
I can listen.
When, if, you are ready to tell your story, I am here. I am ready to hear it, to smile and grieve with you. Because your story is powerful. And you are not alone.
Resolve to know more…read about infertility and infertility awareness at these two links:
- http://www.resolve.org/infertility101 (Basic understanding of the disease of infertility.)
- http://www.resolve.org/national-infertility-awareness-week/about.html (About NIAW)