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Infertility Uncovered

I read a quote by Zoe Clark-Coates that said your stories are the roadmap to our heart and not everyone should know the route to your soul. I generally subscribe to this theory, but when a narrative is a substantial part of who you have become, it almost feels impossible to be authentic without opening yourself up.

And I know that I have been withdrawn.

It is very difficult to share a story about things that most people take for granted, especially when you do not have a “happily ever after” to reassure them with. It is also hard to put to words feelings that are a combination of loss and grief and hope, when you yourself don’t know if a “happily ever after” is coming.

From the time we are children, certain events are treated as given - first comes love, then come marriage, then come a baby carriage.

Oh what a hoax!

In my very early 20s, I had mapped my life out - become a fully credentialed actuary at 25, be engaged by 26, get married at 28, have kids at 30. Interestingly and in hindsight, that was the end of the plan, like this was the culmination of what life has to offer. No wonder any deviation feels like such a failure! Spoiler alert: none of this happened as planned because life happened.

I was 23 when I was diagnosed with endometriosis. My endometriosis journey hasn’t been typical, so I don’t often relate to the narrative in that community - I have been lucky to be spared the chronic pain typically associated with the disease, I was lucky to be diagnosed quickly. A misconception is that endometriosis is about “that time of the month”. Wrong. It is a chronic and incurable disease that affects 1 in 10 women and can rage havoc all month long... and in my case, silently. Silently and painlessly, endometriosis cysts grew on my right ovary and both fallopian tubes, mangling the organs to the point where it was best to remove them.

This means I am surgically sterile.

I don’t know why that is so hard to say? Why does this feel so embarrassing? Why does it feel like such a failure?

In my early 30s, I won the love lottery. Falling in love is like a lottery, and to win in it is truly miraculous - it takes the perfect combination of attraction, timing, location, acceptance, mutual interest, availability, and willingness. As life has happened, I have no doubt that God thought so much of me that the waiting was so He could send me Nate at the right time for both of us, knowing this battle was ahead.

The more I have learned about the details of reproduction through infertility, the more I believe that making a baby is also like a lottery. Maybe purposefully, high school biology gives the impression that all you need is an egg and a sperm, and poof! you make a baby. Making a baby is truly miraculous - it takes the perfect combination of healthy organs and cells, hormones, biology, timing, and the magic of embryo implantation that science has yet to figure out. During an IVF cycle, you are so painstakingly aware for weeks of every minuscule milestone - the number of egg follicles, the size of follicles, egg maturity, fertilization, blastocyst expansion and hatching, implementation... Each milestone is a celebrated with pride. I have been so proud of my one sickly little ovary, of my eggs, of Nate’s super fertilizing sperm (we have a 100% fertilization rate!). Mostly so proud of our amazing little embryos who tried so hard to come to us. Each milestone is hope. One step closer. You visualize your child and it is heartbreaking when they don’t come.

I am keenly aware of the suggestion that if something is difficult, it is not God’s will. I am bothered when I hear people saying things like if you just have faith, what you want will happen. I believe that faith isn’t about getting what you want, but how you cope whether you get it or not. Through this journey in waiting, I have found what feels right for me now in my faith through my private communion with God. I wear two bible verses, which represent my commingled grief and hope, to honor my embabies - Matthew 5:4 and Luke 1:45.

As it relates to difficult situations, waiting in faith, and God’s will, the story of Hannah and her son Samuel also gives me great hope. One of the greatest comforts I have found in the waiting is expressed in the poem Wait by Russell Kelfer. Google it.

It is with great reflection and consideration, that we walk this path. There have been so many decision points and junctions where we have had to asked ourselves what is next. We have mourned many losses in this journey, closed several doors, and there may certainly be a point where we close this door too. But today is not the day.

We have been asked why we don’t “just” adopt. The word “just” is typically used. And sometimes the mention of “all the kids out there” who need a good home. There is so much judgment, assumption, misconception, and ignorance about adoption in this common narrative. The judgment that adoption is the consolation prize and responsibility of the barren. The assumption that the adoptive parents are acting out of benevolence. The misconception that adoption is easy. The ignorance about the many ways to build a family. We have strongly considered adoption, and although we have not ruled it out, it is not our current path.

I do generally think the awkward small talk and the uninformed solutions that are volunteered come from a place that is trying to be helpful. Like I said, it is very difficult to hear a story without the reassurance of a “happily ever after”, so people try to fix it. Platitudes like “be positive” fail to truly validate and empathize with the feelings people are feeling. It is okay to feel our feelings, and there isn’t a right or wrong way to feel.

I have tried writing this before and hesitated because from some experiences, it can feel like I have to explain and provide support for our decisions and feelings. When you test the waters and put yourself out there the only way you can, hoping the people you trust the most are there to support you but they aren’t, it makes it harder to put your truth into the world. Sometimes you go out into the world and find that tribe of people looking for support just like you, and it feels so good to find those people who say “yes, your feelings are valid because I have felt them too”. The most amazing gift though has been from those few friends who haven’t walked this path but whose care and empathy runs so deep that it lifts us up.

I’ll end with a quote from Nora McInerny, who hosts my favorite podcast, Terrible Thanks for Asking: People say being a parent is like watching your heart walk around outside of your body. I think trying to be a parent is just as vulnerable. It is hard to try for anything in life. Trying is risky. It means reaching, grasping. It means careful balancing your hopes and your dreams with reality and statistics. It means effort with no guaranteed outcome. But we keep trying, even if it means breaking our hearts over and over.

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