Our Infertility Story
This post has always made me nervous to write. Yet, I feel like infertility is STILL so unspoken, misunderstood, and lonely and I have a great desire to open up about it and offer hope. I want this post to give a glimpse into what it looks like. Hang tight, this will be a long one. Whether you've experienced infertility, haven't experienced it, or maybe will, this simply covers our personal experience. I hope it opens your eyes to the many factors that can affect this trial and will break down a few barriers in relation to people's perception of it.
Everything started the way it does for any hopeful couple ready to grow their family. We were excited, nervous, and hopeful. None of my closest friends or family had an issue conceiving, so naturally, it didn't really cross our minds. It was easy for seemingly everyone else, why wouldn't that be the case for us?
The first month came and went.
"Oh well," we thought, "we must have timed something wrong."
Then the next month.
And the next month.
And the next month.
And the next month.
And the next month.
And the next month.
And the next month.
And the next month.
And the next month.
Our trash was filled with negative pregnancy tests that seemed to glare at me from their place at the top of the bin. Sprinkled in all those previous weeks were fleeting hopes of pregnancy symptoms. Are my boobs extra sensitive? Maybe this is implantation bleeding? Does that cramp feel different from period cramping?! Am I peeing more? Do I feel pregnant? Am I late? I think I'm late! And every month, went from hopeful two week waits, to heartache in the deepest sense.
We were frustrated at this point. Disappointed. Sad. Friends were moving on to their second pregnancies. Yet here we were. Left behind. Wondering what so wrong with us. Nothing about cycles and so on seemed that askew, but I began to question it. I was disappointed in my body. Why wasn't it doing the most natural thing on earth? I would look at my sweet husband and feel such sadness that I couldn't make him a dad. Gosh, he'd be such a great dad. I'd see him hold our friend's baby and feel my heart sink in my chest for what "should be."
I had an annual check-up with my doctor, and mentioned my concerns. She was a great physician and sent me off for an "infertility work-up" straight away.
I got poked and prodded every other week for two months, and spent a pretty penny on "ovulation predictor kits" to see if it would help us. It didn't. I remember even having to get to a lab while on a trip to have a cycle-time-sensitive blood draw. My arm, it seemed, was forever bruised, and each time I looked down, was reminded that this may be the easiest part of potentially years of pain and heartache. It was only the beginning, and just that thought alone was enough to bring on unbearable hurt.
My tests all came back clear. Everything was working as it should. This was good news, right? Well yes, but it still offered no answer for why we weren't conceiving. Sometimes, no diagnosis can feel worse than actually having one. Our questions had not been answered.
So Tom was tested. We never gave his test much thought, because don't we all just jump to infertility being a "woman's problem?"
When my doctor called me with his results, my heart broke. BROKE. Broke for him, for us, for our hopes, and for God's plan for our life.
She didn't usually call me, but she was home sick and when she got his results knew I would want to know right away. She gave it to me straight, explained each portion of the analysis, and tried to break it to me as gently and lovingly as possible. I was choking on my words and trying to get off the phone before I broke down, but before I rushed off, she said, "Now Joy, this isn't good news, I know that and so do you. But remember that it's not impossible. It doesn't mean it will never happen, it's just going to be a lot harder, and you'll probably need some help to get there. Do not give up hope." I mumbled a half-hearted, thank you and hung up just as my tears poured through the flood gates.
I messaged Tom and told him his results didn't look good. He was at work, so he tried to brush it off until we could talk later. I had a meeting that night, and I remember feeling so glazed over, wishing I wasn't there. I got home late, hugged Tom, and we just looked at each other. I read him the results and we cried. We cried for such a long time and tried to just pick ourselves up each day and muddle through. We comforted one another, prayed, and simply existed for a while, but we never let it come between us. We were very conscientious about what it could do to a marriage, and chose every day to grow closer instead of farther apart. This was no one's "fault" but we had to move forward and accept a different reality from the one we pictured.
My doctor had given us a referral to a fertility clinic. We had to wait three months just to get in to our first appointment. THREE MONTHS. Three months is the length of an entire trimester of pregnancy. It was so hard to just twiddle our thumbs while we waited for a few minutes to discuss options and next steps with a stranger. All the while just wishing we'd somehow miraculously conceive before getting in. All the while seeing our friends' babies take first steps and other couples announce their impending arrivals. It felt like daggers to our hurting hearts. Not by any fault of theirs, but it's just a side-affect of infertility I suppose.
We sat down across a sweet younger doctor and when she asked me a simple question, I suddenly lost it.
"Let it out honey," she said. "You are not the first to sit in that chair and cry, and you won't be the last. Whenever you're ready, we can talk."
So I cried and blubbered out answers to medical history questions and how much coffee I drank each day.
She told us that to be positive there was absolutely nothing wrong with me, too, she wanted to have a few more tests done before we focused our time on Tom.
I had more bloodwork done. Then a HSG (Hysterosalpingogram) test in which a catheter is inserted into your cervix and they inject dye through your uterus and fallopian tubes while under a live x-ray machine. It was about as comfortable as it sounds, but gave immediate results (which were all clear). It shows you if your tubes are blocked. The very next day, I had a SHG (Sonohysterogram). Same thing, only this time it was saline solution injected into my uterus to separate the walls and check for polyps or cysts with an ultrasound. This was horrid, but again, came back all clear.
So we went ahead and scheduled Tom's tests. Another month-long wait to get in. This was with the fertility clinic's urologist. I won't go into detail on Tom's tests, but they too, were about as invasive as mine. All the while, bills began to pour in (because infertility isn't usually covered by insurance).
After another month or two of waiting, we finally got in with the urologist to hear all the results and go over options.
"Based on your results, we have two options. One: you can have an outpatient procedure done to correct some veins (varicoceles). You may see results in three months and conceive naturally, or you may not see results for a year, if at all. Two: you can do IVF." That was it. Those were our two no-guarantee, expensive options.
Of course, if given any option of conceiving naturally, we would try it. They scheduled the outpatient surgery, and told us we wouldn't get any prices until the week of. But if we decided to cancel, we had to do so 72 hours before the surgery or we'd be charged a $250 fee. Seems like small potatoes, but we wanted to avoid a worthless fee if we could.
Another long wait for the surgery. So we planned a vacation that would land a month afterwards to finally catch a break from all the appointments and waiting and stress of it all.
Until three days before surgery, our clinic called to inform us of a "fee."
They couldn't explain what it was for, and at nearly 3K, we weren't willing to pony up that kind of cash without an explanation, so we demanded they cancel the surgery immediately. Just another setback, we thought.
By now, I hadn't taken a pregnancy test on a whim for probably a year or so. Why bother torturing yourself? Save yourself some heartache, Joy, just don't bother any more.
Nine days before our big vacation, I had a funny feeling. Something was different. I had one crappy pregnancy test left out of a box of twenty. I had saved it, after telling myself to save it for a time when I was SURE it would come out positive. For some reason, I thought this was that day.
Tom was in the shower, I peed into a cup, and walked out to play with Hondo. I returned a minute later and saw two lines. For the first time ever. EVER. In TWO years.
"Ummm..." I said.
"Umm is the sound in dumb" Tom replied from the shower (A quote from Parks and Rec haha).
"Tom, no, seriously, this test is positive."
He whipped the curtain back and we looked at it together in shock and disbelief.
"Does this mean I can't drink wine in Europe?!" I quipped (half joking, of course).
"Joy are you sure this test is accurate?" he asked.
He got out of the shower, and I got in. Both of us speechless and more afraid than excited. Afraid that it wasn't real or something would happen.
"Joy, it's getting darker," he said.
I quickly got dressed and rushed to the store for prenatal vitamins and more tests. Three more tests confirmed it. I called my doctor and they booked me the soonest appointment so I could get blood-work for confirmation. I left the office that day with a stack of pregnancy information booklets and resources.
Surreal doesn't even begin to cover it.
But you know what is most awe-inspiring to me?
The first day of your last period is the day they use to calculate your due date. Everything is based on that day and marks the "beginning" of your pregnancy.
It was that day that Tom was supposed to have his corrective surgery.
Let that sink in.
Had he had that surgery, we wouldn't be expecting our sweet baby boy right now. We said no to doctors and bills, and God said YES. After two years, He finally gave us a dramatic, clear, yes.
That's what I mean when I say there are times in life when God's plan is so muddled, but other times when it is just abundantly clear. We said no to a simple surgery, not knowing when the time would be right to pursue it again, and simply put our faith in God. We let go of control, and He took over. It's not always that clear, or that "simple" ... but it sure is an incredible testimony when it is.
Infertility has been the hardest thing we've ever faced. We may face it again, and the pain it comes with never leaves you.
But I can say this; even amidst the heartache, we had good days. We were surrounded by blessings that we probably took for granted. Our marriage remained strong, we had our health, Hondo came into our lives and comforted us and brought us the joy we were missing, and God was walking with us.
God is good. In the good times and bad, He is so good.
A couple take-aways:
Infertility is not just a "woman's issue." One third of cases is an issue with the woman, one third is an issue with the man, and one third is a combination of both.
1 in 8 couples will experience infertility. We never imagined we'd be that "one," yet here we are.
Though we miraculously conceived and are overjoyed, pregnancy after infertility has been wrought with fear. Many women have fear in pregnancy and beyond - it's a normal part of motherhood - but this is something ingrained a little deeper.
It's a fear of losing that child and grieving so deeply what took so long to achieve, and having to begin the horrible path of infertility again.
It's never feeling truly sure that things will be "okay" in the end. Whether that's birth, pregnancy, health of the baby, or the next time you try to get pregnant.
It's still feeling so broken when your friends in the infertility community endure yet another loss or failed attempt at IVF/IUI/adoption and you know there is nothing you can say or do to make their hurt go away.
It's "survivor's guilt" when you get pregnant and they are still waiting.
It's feeling far more protective of your child's life than you ever thought you would (like, I want to put our baby in a bubble after birth and never let anyone touch him hahaha).
It's still somehow feeling a twinge of pain with birth announcements, even though you're already expecting.
It's not feeling joy and excitement at the thought of trying for the next child, but emotional preparation and dread.
Life after infertility is, at its core, living in a constant state of unknown. It's a test of faith and trust in God's plan. His plan can be hard to see at times, and not like what you would plan for yourself, but He has never forsaken us and that is something I always cling to on the hardest of days. He is faithful, and I can honestly say that putting my trust in Him is the only place I have found peace.
If you are facing infertility, know that you are not alone. There are people in your same boat, feeling the same conflicting, crappy feelings as you, and crying themselves to sleep after yet another day littered with pregnant bellies and baby photos. There are resources and support groups that can offer solace, comfort, and advice (contact me if you would like to be part of something like this - it's confidential). Of course I am no expert and do not pretend to be, but I am a listening ear, and hope to be a voice for the silent sufferers of infertility. If our story helps even one person feel a sense of belonging and understanding, then I'm glad we shared it.
In the meantime, we'll be here. Praying for our precious baby that we are so privileged to welcome into the world in a few short weeks. We'll be praying for the infertile. And trusting in the peace we find in Jesus.