Tag Archives: TTC

Fertility Warrior

It has been one year, one month, and fourteen days since I learned that my infertility treatment was going to be longer and more difficult than I expected. One pandemic, two egg retrievals, three surgeries, and a shitload of hormones later, I finally arrived at embryo transfer day. Last Tuesday, hopefully, at age 42, I finally became a mother. After waiting for so long it seems completely surreal, and after so many steps and distractions, it is also getting real.

In the spirit of self-preservation, I have had to take the whole fertility process one step at a time. I have had to focus on each day of drugs, each ultrasound, each surgery, each recovery as singular events to get through them without losing it. Meanwhile, I’ve had people reaching out to me about taking their baby hand-me-downs and a lot of well-meaning certainty from family members that this transfer is going to be successful. I would have loved to get excited, but I have been navigating the steps with a walled-off heart thanks to a long, difficult path (including the 10+ years before going to an infertility clinic) and some early disappointment.  However, even in my current state of spiritual ambiguity, I can still acknowledge that closing your heart to pain also closes it to joy. So, for the last two weeks I have been slowly lowering the drawbridge on the possibility of joy.

One of the things to unfold this week is an examination of how I actually felt about the big day finally being here. I have been so process-oriented since my disappointing first egg retrieval that I actually didn’t know. I know I have vaguely judged myself for not being more obsessed with the outcome of the process. So many women that I see on fertility online groups and message boards, fertility warriors as they sometimes call themselvs, are absolutely humming with baby fervor. Every waking moment appears to be full of nothing but baby and fertility obsession. That has not been my experience. I have rarely thought about the outcome of all of this. I haven’t gotten bent out of shape or all hyped up about every appointment and every step. I haven’t had much impulse to photo-document (there has been some, which maybe I will share some day). It’s basically just been a thing I’ve been doing. I have wondered at times if that meant that I didn’t want it as much as I used to; didn’t want it as much as my fellow fertility warriors. I might not know how bad I still want this if it hadn’t been for the sharp grief after every setback and the fact that I kept going, despite how hard it’s been.

Now that I’m on the other side of the hardest physical parts (I can’t say I’m past the hardest emotional parts yet), I know that some of my passiveness has been about self-protection, some has been about experience, and some might just have to do with my age. I think that the self-protection piece is pretty self-explanatory: if you don’t put a lot of energy into it it’s less likely to disappoint you. In terms of experience, I was a woo-woo girl. I have learned the hard way, and the intellectual way, that obsessing and desperation don’t actually change outcomes. Spending every waking minute thinking about whether or not I’m going to have a baby is not going to manifest a baby. It’s just going to stress me out and give me anxiety. Consciously trying to manifest a baby with my thoughts isn’t going magically bring a baby into being, and actually sets me up to blame myself for things that I can’t control (ie., no baby for any number of physical reasons).

Finally, I am 42. My clock stopped ticking awhile ago. When I was in my late-twenties to mid-thirties I was baby crazy, just like all the ladies that I see online. I won’t pretend to understand the hormonal motivators behind some of that (though I know there are some). But I do understand that you can’t maintain that level of highly emotional obsession forever without crashing. I was baby crazy for about 8 years, and here’s what the crash looks like for me: acceptance. At some point in my late thirties I began to accept that it might never happen for me. I was able to start picturing a life where I didn’t have children, and I had some time to come to terms with the fact that if it didn’t happen, I would be O.K. That doesn’t mean that my heart doesn’t crack open and make me cry every single time I think about actually having and holding a baby of my own. It doesn’t diminish my “fertility warrior” status.  

Now that I potentially have a little passenger, I am in the much-dreaded two week wait, when it is so easy to spin out. My dreams of having a baby feel so close, and I am trying to balance letting my heart open a bit more while still having reasonable expectations. Journaling, time with girlfriends, self-care, (mostly) good food, distraction, and A LOT of sleep are in order. And maybe some prayers and positive visualization…what can it hurt? There are no atheists in foxholes.

Fertility

My particular pandemic pain point has been the pursuit of motherhood. Motherhood, or lack thereof, has been the most painful element of my life for 13 years. I am a person who has never questioned whether or not I want to be a mother. I have always wanted it. When I was young it was completely a matter of course that I would have children. No question about it. I went off birth control when I got married in 2007. When I was 28. And then…nothing. For 13 years I have lived in this painful limbo, with the last year being the most excruciating in some ways.

Throughout the entirety of my 30’s I was holding my breath, waiting for the pregnancy that never happened. I watched as friends had babies, and then watched as those babies grew into children and those friends grew into parents. I also watched myself disappear into my grief about it. It felt like all of my dreams and inspiration for what I wanted my life to be died along with the dream of being a mother, like all potential for who I could have been faded away. I gained a bunch of weight and became prematurely middle-aged by age 33. I vanished into the idea of being a total failure. I was too depressed and hopeless to pull myself out of it in terms of focusing my life on something else, and my husband and I couldn’t afford fertility treatment or adoption. I basically lost a full decade of my life to despair and hopelessness.

Sometime around age 38 the fog began to lift a bit. I did yoga teacher training, went to Thailand, finished my Thai Yoga Bodywork certificate. I began to resurface, to find myself again. The other thing that happened was that my husband’s career took off, and mine did, too. We were finally making pretty good money. The year I was 39 we bought a house in the city. The year I was 40 we started pursuing fertility treatments. That was a year ago, one month prior to pandemic lock-downs beginning in the U.S. We had a plan in place to start towards intra-uterine insemination (IUI) in March. Then the fertility clinic was shut down due to COVID-19. It was July before we could get back on track with the plan. I’m not going to lie; I did a lot of drinking during that four-month period.

 In late July 2020 I started taking the hormones for IUI. I went in for a baseline ultrasound and found out that, though my hormone panels were perfect and I have a freakish number of eggs for my age, my uterus looks like a war zone. I have giant fibroids, polyps, and a huge cyst on my right ovary. After confirming all of the above with a sonohysterogram (super pleasant procedure), the clinic pronounced me no longer a candidate for IUI. If I wanted to proceed with trying to have a baby, I would need to do In Vitro Fertilization (IVF). For me that would involve retrieving my eggs, making embryos, having them tested, freezing the viable ones, having surgery to clean up my uterus, letting my uterus heal for at least three months, and then putting the embryos in one by one until one of them takes.

Now, in February 2021, I am healing from my second egg retrieval, which happened last week. In the first egg retrieval, out of 33 eggs (a freakishly high number for a person of any age), 20 were mature and 16 fertilized. Eight embryos developed enough for genetic testing and only one of those did not have a chromosomal issue that would cause miscarriage (the doctor assured me that it was entirely due to age and not anything I had done or not done). We decided that the entire weight of our parenthood dreams was an awful lot of pressure to put on one little embryo, so we went for a second round. In round two we got 30 eggs, 24 were mature and 20 fertilized. Twelve developed enough to be tested. Next week we will find out how many were viable. Regardless of how many that is, we will not be doing any more egg retrievals.

The next steps for me are an MRI and a consult with the surgeon who will be fixing my uterus. That is in early March; a full year after lock-downs began. For me, as for many others, it has been a year of waiting. A deeper pressing of pain points. A development of patience. And maybe, hopefully, dreamfully, optimistically, a time of incubation.