Of all the things I’ve experienced in my life, I never thought I’d face the heartache of infertility. My husband and I began trying to start a family five years ago, and although it didn’t happen right away, neither of us was particularly worried. After all, most couples don’t get pregnant right away. Even the doctors agreed it was best to just keep trying. Six months passed and then a year; finally our doctors felt that it was time to move beyond letting nature take its course and we began trying to find an answer to our infertility in earnest. Unfortunately, the only solution was the last thing we wanted to hear: the only way we would ever be able to have a chance at conceiving was through in vitro fertilization. After the initial shock and grief subsided, fear set in for me. Just listening to the doctors describe the procedures involved made my heart pound, especially when I thought of having to give myself shots. I’m not needle-phobic by any means, but I couldn’t imagine giving myself daily injections in the stomach. It seemed like an insurmountable task and for months before my first cycle, I lived in fear of not being able to do it. I was also scared of what effect the hormones would have on me, and the risks of surgical egg retrieval were always in the back of my mind. It made me feel alone, but once I opened up to my friends, I found out that a few of them had been through the same thing. I suddenly had a support system of women who actually knew what I was experiencing, which was incredibly comforting to me.
In February, 2009, we started our first in vitro cycle and much to my surprise, the shots weren’t that bad. I learned that the combination of an ice pack and small insulin needles made the process bearable. I remember saying to my husband “That’s all there is to it?” and I wondered what had made me so nervous. I was quite relieved to know that I could get through it without drawing blood or bruising myself too badly. As I started chemically altering my body to prepare for the baby I hoped we could create, I started experiencing menopause-like mood swings and hot flashes. I spent my mornings before work at the hospital getting blood drawn and going through the dark humor-inducing indignity of many internal ultrasounds. As I felt my follicles grow, knowing that they held the eggs that could create a baby, I found myself amazed that life can be created despite its fragility. When the time came for the retrieval, I was more nervous than ever. I hadn’t had an IV since I was hospitalized in high school, and I hadn’t been put under anesthesia since I was in eighth grade and had my wisdom teeth taken out to make way for braces. I’m sure the uncertainty of it all weighed greatly on my husband too, but he kept calm and literally held my hand through the entire process. When I woke up, he was by my side and after I was cleared to leave, he took me home and went to the drugstore with my Oxycontin prescription in hand. After a day of blissful, drug-induced rest, I was sore but back on my feet. Three days later, we had a top quality embryo transferred. The roughest part of the entire process was waiting eleven days before I could have the bloodwork to find out if I was pregnant. Although that is far sooner than most women know, it was a stressful mix of hope and fear as we tried to bond with the embryo we called Little Emm. Sadly, Little Emm didn’t survive, nor did the embryos we transferred in three subsequent cycles. Each non-pregnancy was like a miscarriage – even though the embryos were at the most eleven days old when they perished, they were our potential babies and we mourned each of them as if we’d lost a child.
Although we are facing tough decisions in the months ahead if our fifth cycle doesn’t work, my husband and I are confident that we will somehow become parents. Over the past two years, I have learned many life lessons that have made this struggle worthwhile. If someone had told me years ago that I would be able to endure the intense physical and emotional struggles that go with infertility, I wouldn’t have believed it. I have learned to pray without ceasing and have come to rely on my faith and the support of my husband and family to carry me through my dark times; I don’t have to shoulder this burden alone and that has made it easier to keep it all in perspective. I have also learned that having a sense of humor is one of our greatest defense mechanisms. When I was going through my first cycle, I was frightened by every step of the process. My husband helped me by making up silly jokes and songs to keep me smiling, and it was easier to face the unknown when I could laugh at it. Most importantly, though, I have learned to appreciate just how fragile and miraculous life really is. When you go through an in vitro cycle, everything is very tightly controlled, from ovulation to the possible moment of conception, and even then nature doesn’t always cooperate. The fact that anyone can get pregnant in the usual manner is even more amazing and precious. No one is ever really prepared to be a parent, and regardless of how it happens, it’s always a wild ride into the unknown. That we can get through those nine months and raise our children to adulthood is the most beautiful miracle of all.
contest entry submitted to Real Simple Life Lessons contest, 09/24/10