Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Infertility is Half Agony, Half Hope

There has been no greater struggle in my life than our struggle to start a family. One might wonder why I still give credence to that pain given that I have what I'd argue is the cutest toddler in the history of toddlers (no offense to other cute toddlers). I love my son with a fierceness I didn't know existed in the world, and I wouldn't change a single minute of my path to be his mom. But it was brutal and emotionally harrowing, and it is the hardest thing I've ever been through.

This week is National Infertility Awareness Week. Unless you've been through it I imagine it will be difficult to explain, but I'm going to try my hardest. I spent three years trying to get pregnant and then waited three years during our adoption process. Those six years were a roller coaster of emotion. Every step forward and every positive result was battered back repeatedly. It was exhausting.

I was 30 years old when we got married. I had a gut feeling given my health issues that it wouldn't be easy for me to get pregnant. We said to one another that we weren't "trying" to get pregnant exactly, but we were no longer preventing it either. Six months into our marriage I went to my OB/GYN for a checkup. She told me at my age that after six months I should've gotten pregnant. She suggested we do blood tests to make sure I was ovulating and start Clomid (an ovulation inducing drug) if I was not. It felt early on in the process, but I went with it.

Clomid is a horrible, evil beast. It made me a crazy person, and I was miserable. I lashed out at my husband for no reason. I knew my behavior was irrational, but I wasn't able to control it. Blood work revealed that the Clomid was working, and I was ovulating. After months on the devil's drug with no results we decided to reevaluate.

My husband and I were both tested to make sure everything was working properly. Given my abdominal surgeries, resulting scar tissue and my severe endometriosis, my OB recommended a Hysterosalpingography (HSG) where they run dye through the Fallopian tubes to make sure there's no blockages. The HSG and all other tests revealed no issues. We were given the tepid diagnosis of "unexplained infertility". I switched from Clomid to Femara, a breast cancer drug also used for infertility with fewer side effects

Every single month when I got my period I had a giant meltdown. I began to have the meltdowns in private because I knew my husband felt helpless and couldn't fix it. I began avoiding baby showers, and the happy announcements from friends and family that they were pregnant became daggers in my heart. I was happy for them, but I was so sad for us that I couldn't see through it. I felt like nobody, not even our closest friends or family, understood what we were going through. I felt like nobody else had ever dealt with it.

We decided to take a break for a few months from the hardcore work of trying to have a baby. It was eating away at me. I was at the OB again to discuss next steps, and she made an offhand comment that with my abdominal surgeries and the extraordinary amount of scar tissue she'd be worried about getting to a baby quickly (we already knew I'd have a C-section if we could get there). Then she said she had concerns about my ability to survive a pregnancy. She didn't say those words exactly, but that was the tenor. We knew if we could get there it'd be high risk and really hard on my body, but I really wanted to get pregnant.

She referred us to a fertility specialist where we'd discuss IVF and IUI and all the other fun acronyms. Something about it didn't feel right. I will never forget the moment I decided to stop trying to get pregnant. My husband and I were walking the dogs and he said, "I can live without a baby who is biologically ours. I can't live without you." I grieved the baby I would never carry. I knew adoption was our best option if we were going to have a family.

We decided to adopt and began the arduous process of picking an agency and deciding between domestic and international adoption. We chose Adoption Associates, and they were our guides through the tumultuous process. While it was overwhelming at first, I felt like we were finally doing something. It felt like the years of not being able to get pregnant were behind us, and we were being proactive.

I thought it would happen quickly. We finished all the paperwork and home visits in record time, and started the process of waiting. We set up a nursery. And we waited. About eighteen months into the wait we got the call: we were linked to a birth mother. We headed to the agency's Farmington Hills office and met this young woman who was already a mom to a 14 month old girl. She was having another girl in two weeks, and that little girl was going to be our daughter! I had friends buy us girl clothes. I washed and folded onesies. We bought and installed a car seat in my car. We named her. This was it. We were going to have a daughter!

The plan was that we would head to Ann Arbor when she went into labor and be there when the baby was born. We got the call on a Wednesday afternoon, and I left the office unable to concentrate. The case worker called and said labor can take a long time, so we should wait until we got the green light closer to the baby being born. I didn't sleep Wednesday night. 

On Thursday we were told the baby still hadn't arrived. My husband and I stayed home from work. We went to Home Depot. But there was a nagging sense that something was wrong. It didn't feel right. Then we got the call that she had changed her mind and decided not to do an adoption plan. It was crushing. We then did what any reasonable people would do: got insanely drunk and booked a weekend trip to Toronto.

In Toronto the weekend after a birth mom changed her mind. I look happy. Booze helps.
A year later I decided to broach the subject of IVF with my husband again. My previous proactive feeling had dissipated leaving me wondering if we were ever going to have a child. Before we could have that discussion I ended up spending a month in the hospital and having two abdominal surgeries and a blood clot. I knew definitively at that point that carrying a baby was a terrible idea for me. 

Exhibit A for why I should not have a baby biologically (summer 2014)
The wait was long - nearly three years. But we got the call again on a November afternoon. I was having lunch with a colleague and answered the phone. He knew before my husband. We were having a boy, and we had three weeks' notice. Because of our previous false start I didn't want to get my hopes up. We had everything ready to go, and on a Saturday morning in December, on our sixth wedding anniversary, we got the call. We drove an hour, and at 3:35 pm, when our son was two minutes old, they placed him in my arms.

Our first night in the hospital. So much love.
I have never and will never forget the pain of trying to have a baby both biologically and through adoption, but my nod to infertility awareness week is also a pro-adoption plea. At this point I can't imagine having created our family any other way.

A non-traditional baby shower when Will was three months old.
If I had gotten pregnant right away eight years ago I know I wouldn't have appreciated it like I do now. I would not have the patience. I would not have the same appreciation for the absolute blessing that is getting to be Will's mom. Despite its pain, infertility has made me a better mother, and for that I am grateful. 

Will's fist birthday
If you know someone who is trying to conceive, please be respectful. DO NOT say things like "God has a plan" and "it'll happen for you". Those sentiments may come from a good place, but they sound trite and insensitive to the want-to-be parents who are suffering. Realize when someone can't come to a baby shower or isn't thrilled at your pregnancy announcement that it's not because they don't feel joy for others. It's because that extraordinary pain outweighs the joy. 

Even now as the mom of a healthy toddler when I hear of someone getting pregnant quickly I feel bitter. I feel resentful. It's not because I'm not happy with my life, but it's because when I least expect it the pain of that struggle rises up and grabs my heart. If you're reading this and are struggling to have a family, I hurt for you. Cry when you need to cry. Drink when you need to drink. Avoid babies if you need to because I remember that feeling of not even being able to hold a baby because it hurt so much. Deal with it however you have to deal with it, and don't let people make you feel selfish. Those who love you will try to understand, but they may fail. And someday, whether your journey ends in a pregnancy, with an adoption plan or with a decision not to pursue any additional options, know that this pain will ultimately make you stronger. 

Our monkey at six months old. Heart. Explodes.


  1. You were able to put into words some things I have always wanted to say. I was nearly 37 before I finally became a mom....yes, it was through adoption and yes he was 6 years old, but it happened. We were so blessed! We have been blessed twice more with older kiddos, but I still wish I could have experienced pregnancy. But if I had been able to get pregnant, I wouldn't have the children I have. So many don't understand, but those of us that have been through it appreciate your ability to put it into words.

    1. I am so happy for you! It's a crazy emotional journey, but our kids are amazing (no matter how we had them!)