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.
When friends announced their pregnancies, or complained about their morning sickness, it took everything in me not to fall apart. I even left one party after looking around the room and realizing that every couple there had kids except us. The tears rolled down my face as I left.
Being full of female hormones is not kind to a person’s emotional well-being. I told myself that I must be defective. After all, my husband’s tests looked great, and I was the one who had miscarried before. Thank God for counselors, who guided me to be honest with myself and people around me. I don’t think I would have made it to the other side of this process a sane person without them.
IVF: Round Two
The doctors suggested a more aggressive protocol for IVF. This meant more hormones, more appointments, more stress.
My husband and I grew closer through this process. His ability to be honest about his own feelings reassured me that I was never alone. I realized that he was hurting as much as I was and that we were both longing for a child. The fertility husbands are patients, too.
Egg retrieval this time took a much bigger toll on my body, and I needed a few days to recover. It felt like the worst cramps I had ever had, including the nausea.
Thankfully, after one transfer and successful implantation, this time we did get pregnant. It took months for me to relax and believe that we were really going to have a baby. I remember the morning I was on my way to work, well past 12 weeks, when I realized that I was no longer terrified.
I enjoyed my pregnancy and had fun wearing maternity clothes, figuring that I would likely only get to do it once. I sang to the baby on my way to work, watched him kick me from the inside, and dreamed of what he would look like.
All of that heartbreak, shots, pain, and emotional stress ended with my beautiful son, Tobin.
Where We Are Today
When Toby was 1½ years old, we decided we were ready to give him a sibling, and "thawed out" another egg. And beating the less than 30 percent odds, I got pregnant.
Since I had previously delivered a healthy baby and was starting to show, I told everyone at work when I was 11 weeks pregnant. I had already had a few ultrasounds, and everything seemed normal.
Then I miscarried, and our hearts broke again. Once again, 10 years after being in this same situation, I emailed my boss something to forward to the staff. I let them know that when I was ready to talk about it, I would.
This time, however, when I returned to work, so many other women came up to me to tell me that they, too, had miscarried. It’s hard to believe that it’s so taboo to talk about something so common.
I couldn't bear the thought of another round of IVF because of what it did to my body and mind. And so, after more than a year, with more counseling, and the most amazing, supportive husband, I came to realize that I didn’t need to be pregnant again.
Toby has an adorable cousin, and we got a puppy to entertain him. Now, we are enjoying the ease of life that comes with not having an infant at home. When I think about it, I miss those who we have lost, but I am truly happy for this moment. Now, our family is complete.
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