In our new Realtalk series, we're sharing personal stories about fertility and family planning. We hope they offer support and inspire honest conversation about an incredibly tough topic.
I am a widow, wife, fertility patient, mother, and miscarriage sufferer. I wrote those titles mostly in chronological order, since choosing how to order the events that shape your life seems absurd.
I always knew that I wanted a family. I thought I'd have two blond, curly-haired, blue-eyed children three years apart, just like my sister and me.
But it took 12 years, two partners, multiple failed intrauterine insemination (IUI) attempts, and two rounds of in vitro fertilization (IVF) to get our beautiful only child. (Who, it turns out, has beautiful brown eyes.)
The W Bomb: Losing My First Husband
I married my junior-high-school sweetheart when I was 23, 10 years after the day we became a couple. We had good jobs, great friends, and had bought a house. For a year, we tried to get pregnant. And on Super Bowl Sunday 2004, we were.
At around 12 weeks, we shared our news with family and friends and I told everyone at work. Three days later, I miscarried. I sent an email to my boss and asked him to forward it around. I asked my colleagues not to talk about it with me, since I didn’t think that I could handle having those conversations.
Then, a few months later, my husband was killed in an accident. And thus my life was dealt a reset.
I called it the “W-Bomb,” because once you mention losing a spouse, it immediately “blows up” any chance at a normal conversation. People asked how I could go on. “Simple,” I’d say, “the alternatives really suck.”
I'd previously been in counseling to deal with the grief of miscarrying my first pregnancy earlier that year, and luckily had good rapport with my counselor. I immediately sought her help again.
Trying for a Baby With IUI
Four months after my husband died, I reconnected with a co-worker who lived on the other side of the state. While it seemed too early, my therapist, also a young widow, encouraged me to allow myself to see where our relationship would go. After dating long-distance for a year, he moved to Southern California to be with me. We've now been married for seven years.
A little over a year into the marriage, we started trying for a baby. After six months with no positive pregnancy test, and knowing my previous history, I felt sure that something was wrong.
We went to the fertility doctor when I was 32 years old. All of the tests were normal — good, in fact — so they suggested that we try IUI. It was easy, minimally invasive, and relatively inexpensive at around $1,000 per attempt. We tried five or six times. Every month I’d take the hormone self-injections (I had to get used to needles, and a little sting), use the ovulation predictor kits, and go to the doctor for multiple ultrasounds. Then, inevitably, I’d get the definitive sign that I was not pregnant.
There is nothing quite as heartbreaking as having to deliver bad news when you're already devastated. But I was the one who had to tell my hopeful husband.
Months and thousands of dollars later, I had to again readjust my concept of self. I went from hopeful wife, to fertility patient, to woman desperate to have a baby and willing to do anything to have one.
I tried acupuncture, herbal supplements, and was extraordinarily cautious with my diet before settling into the role of IVF patient. At the encouragement of my counselor, I started to prepare a nursery. I was also mentally preparing to adopt if our IVF cycles didn't result in a baby.
My First Experience With IVF
IVF is expensive, invasive, terrifying, hopeful, heart-crushing, and amazing. I now know more about the human reproductive system than I ever wanted to.
I had to inject myself in the abdomen six times a day. Most of the shots became routine, but there was one that made me feel as though my skin was on fire. I also had so many ultrasounds that during one a nurse told me, “We break down your modesty one appointment at a time.”
We tried IVF twice. The first round, I was convinced that it would work. On retrieval day, they used a really small catheter to remove eggs from my ovaries. It was the first time I had ever been sedated, and it was scary. We retrieved about six eggs, which was disappointing based on all of my lab results. (Others in my online support group had anywhere from 10 to 35 eggs.) But still, it was enough to get started. It seemed like one should stick.
The doctors transferred two at the same time, despite their typical policy of just transferring one. Perhaps this was due to their limited faith in them. I assumed that one would work, or maybe both and we would happily welcome twins — but neither did.
Again, it was my job to tell my husband the bad news.
What It's Really Like Going Through Infertility
Before trying IVF, we decided to tell our families that we were seeking help. My well-meaning mother and mother-in-law thought it was funny to tease about wanting grandchildren. They had no idea that every time they said it, I felt like a failure. The turning point was when I called my mom on Mother's Day and her friend decided to tell me how badly my mom wanted a grandchild.