One year ago, my partner Chris and I decided we were ready to be parents. We made this decision as we made many others in our relationship, with full hearts and in careful consideration of the joys and challenges ahead. Our relationship has not always followed the traditional path. We are unmarried with no immediate plans to tie the knot. In 2016 we became homeowners and shortly thereafter, when our lives and careers became more settled, we opted instead to try for a baby. Despite our reservations about marriage, we love each other deeply and have always known we wanted to be parents.
A year ago, I could not have imagined that this little wish in our hearts would evolve into such an arduous journey, one that has at times tested my courage and made tired my soul. It was March when we first sought treatment for infertility, hoping to learn if there were any conditions affecting our reproductive health. My OBGYN referred me to a Reproductive Endocrinologist, and he ordered a series of tests to assess our condition. We waited eagerly for the results, and when they arrived, I was surprised to hear that the tests showed as normal. Everything from our blood work & genetic material, to my Saline sonagram (a test to check the functionality of a woman’s fallopian tubes) all showed levels and imaging consistent with a fertile couple. I tried to let this news ease my concern, but still I was puzzled. Why hadn’t we gotten pregnant if there was no concerning medical diagnosis?
By June, our RE recommended a cycle of ovulation induction. The Clomid gave me headaches and hot flashes, but still I was hopeful. At my monitoring visits I asked questions, made mental notes, and suffered the pokes and prods of many ultrasounds and blood tests. I took the drug at night to try to sleep through some of the side effects, which helped a little, but at a later monitoring visit, I found I had to be redosed at 150mg for another 5 days. Even when the news wasn’t always positive, I still relished the information the doctors shared with me, while craning my neck to catch a glimpse of my follicles floating along on the ultrasound screen in blissful ignorance. Eventually my body responded to the Clomid and a dominant follicle emerged. We triggered with the Ovidril shot when it measured 25mm. Chris administered the shot two inches away from my navel and we tried for the next few days to make it count.
I’ll never know why the first round of Clomid didn’t work. Or the second. Sometimes it feels like that’s the hardest part – all the not knowing. The process of ovulation induction makes transparent so much of what your body is going through (the follicle count and size, the state of your hormone levels at any point in your cycle, the thickness of your uterine lining, etc.), but the other part of the process is all the waiting, the complete uncertainty, and the seeds of doubt that inevitably grown in the mind under such conditions.
When I realized I was not pregnant after the first round of OI, I felt unable to cope with the reality that something with so many medical professionals involved could simply not produce the expected outcome. Here I had doctors and nurses telling me something I didn’t feel my own body was telling me: the appropriate time to try to conceive, and yet it wasn’t working.
For me, there continues to be this feeling of shame and it rears it’s ugly head whenever my body refuses to cooperate, or a friend asks me how I’m feeling. And then of course there is the shame I feel when I consider my problem as compared to other women. Surely a miscarriage, cancer, or an incurable reproductive condition are more traumatic, and yet here I am feeling sorry for myself.
Beneath the shame, there is something about unexplained infertility that does not feel real. Every month I feel as if I am mourning the loss of a dream. How can you grieve over something that never was? I’ve struggled with how to articulate this experience, how to make others understand the range of emotions, the cyclical nature of my thoughts and the ways I’ve tried to hold onto hope. Here I intend to try to explain myself. It is in sharing this story that makes it real.