I’m struggling with the idea of writing a short blog entry about infertility. My story is long enough to fill up a book and somehow it seems shallow to even try to sum it up. It has defined me, crushed me, haunted me, depressed me, emptied me, changed me, marked me, developed me, strengthened me, and pushed me into places I never dreamed possible. It’s the death sentence to a dream that seems impossible to live out. For me, it was my worst nightmare come true and everything in my life felt as empty as my arms – month after month, year after year. One day I will tell my personal story in a book; in fact, I’ve had the title of my work since before our first child was conceived on our 4th IVF. But, if I had to sum it up now that our story is complete, I would say that infertility eventually gave me a new heart. For me, it was truly a redemption story of coming to the end of myself and becoming someone new.
Similar to what I wrote on my adoption page, this is not meant to be a comprehensive guide on the subject of infertility. Instead, I just hope to pass along some of the wisdom I gathered while journeying down this road, which included a total of 7 in-vitro (IVF) and many other procedures during the years we sought treatment.
First off, please know that you are not alone. According to Dr. Sherman Silber’s website (www.infertile.com) 1 in 5 American couples face infertility today. That is a staggering number and one that just keeps growing. When we first saw a doctor in the late 80’s that number was more closer to 1 in 10 couples. There are many reasons why people have difficultly conceiving; for us it was male factor. My understanding is that roughly 40% of the time infertility is caused by female factors, 40% of the time its male factors and 20% there are problems on both sides. Regardless the reason, it’s a lonely diagnosis and one many couples decide to carry in silence. For me, it became important to associate with others who understood how I felt and the pain I carried. I discovered RESOLVE, the national support group for infertility, with local chapters all over the country. I also encourage you to get involved in online discussion groups on infertility for emotional support, but most definitely not medical advice.
Facing the truth is also very important. As tempting as it may be to ignore the problem thinking it will go away and that you will “get pregnant next month”, it's a better idea to seek medical help if you fall into one of these categories: “According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, you should seek the care of a specialist if you are unable to achieve pregnancy after 12 months of unprotected intercourse and the women is under the age of 35, six months if the women is more than 35 years of age. You should also seek the care of a specialist if you have had more than one miscarriage” (www.resolve.com)
But, speaking of medical advice I have two words I only wish someone had shared with me:
Please, please, please do not waste your time, money and emotions on discussions about infertility with an OB/ GYN – I don’t care how much you love them or how much they assure you they can help. I could go on and on (and on and on) about my experience on this subject, because I wasted so.much.time. with doctors who are not specialist in this area. A reproductive endocrinologist will evaluate both partners to determine the exact nature of the problem and then present a targeted treatment plan. I cannot tell you how amazing it was to finally connect with a team of professionals who truly understood and could treat the problems. Understanding there is not always a solution and that carrying a baby to term might not be possible, there is still tremendous peace of mind that comes from finally getting to the truth and having options.
For us, treatment meant in-vitro, specifically ICSI, but that is not always the case for everyone. We were in the unique position of being ahead of the technology curve and had to wait on the refinement of the procedure we needed. But, there are several other levels of medical intervention that are not as expensive or intrusive. I highly recommend Dr. Sherman Silber’s book, How to Get Pregnant which gives you an excellent overview to the various procedures and why they are performed.
While treatment presents options, it also presents moral dilemmas. We had to consider our religious beliefs and determine what choices we believed to be ethical and in keeping with our Christian faith. Concepts such as “selective reduction,” “donor sperm,” and the “life at conception” were all issues we had to wrestle through with our doctors. We faced “freezing embryos” on a number of occasions and were forced to comprehend our responsibility to the potential of life these embryos contained. In the pursuit of making a baby, we found that our faith had to inform our decisions and could not be set-aside simply to fill my arms. There were many cautious and prayer-filled choices we had to make during our 7 IVF’s that spanned from 1992-2001.
As a point of conclusion, we did eventually have three biological children. My daughter Lydia was born after our 4th IVF in 1997, on what I considered at the time to be my final attempt. Miraculously, we learned I was pregnant 10 years to the day after we started trying to conceive. After several more failed procedures, I was blessed with a second pregnancy when Lydia was 4 years old. On my 7th IVF procedure in 2001 we were given our twins, Michael and Isabelle. The day after they were born, I knew my treatment days were behind me and that I would never be pregnant again – I simply knew it was time to close that door.
I read once that infertility becomes like an old friend, visiting now and then throughout life in somewhat of a bittersweet fashion. I hated that concept and refused to accept that thought as truth. However, after living with infertility for over 25 years now I can see what the author meant by comparing infertility to an old friend. Although Tim and I now have a “quiver full” of children, we remain infertile. It has never really gone away; it’s just grown with me – it’s just become part of who I am.