Friday, March 10, 2017

Slice Eight - My Plan

When all of our initial fertility efforts failed, I decided we needed "a plan."  I wanted, no...I needed Aaron and I to decide precisely how long we would continue trying, what our next steps would be, and when to set our deadline for calling it quits.

I craved control.

About a year and a half into the process, we contacted a highly-recommended fertility specialist in Kansas City.  She confirmed everything we already knew - there was no cause for our infertility, we were "normal."  Then, she informed us of our remaining two options: intrauterine insemination (IUI) or in vitro fertilization (IVF).  We spoke with her for several hours about both possibilities and ultimately left the clinic disheartened and defeated.  Both options felt overly invasive and made it seem as if we were trying to override God's will.

Despite this, we still found ourselves back at the same specialist about four years later, broken and desperate for a solution.  We decided to pursue the less invasive of the two options, the IUI.  Though our confidence in this plan was shaky at best, we felt it was our only chance at having a baby.

Prior to undergoing the IUI procedure, the doctor required us to undergo many of the exact same tests we had the past.  This was routine, and considering all of the negative and normal results we had previously received, we did not expect much new news.

But during my ultrasound, the doctor paused.  She flashed a quick, subtle look to her nurse, and in that moment, I knew something was wrong.  We finished the tests, and then she led us back to the conference room.  When she closed the door and slid the box of Kleenex onto the table, my heart sank and everything I had suspected since the "look" was confirmed.

She found a mass.

My throat closed.  The room dimmed and everything started to spin.  I asked her to repeat herself...  She calmly instructed us to call my ObGyn as soon as we got home.  We did, and they scheduled my surgery immediately.

This was not my plan.

Slice Seven - Normal

What does it mean to be "normal?"





Being normal is a good thing...right?  I suppose it is, unless one is looking for answers.

Infertility is typically defined as a couple's inability to become pregnant after six months to one year of trying to conceive naturally.  Approximately ten percent of couples in the United States are ultimately labeled as infertile.  Usually, however, the cause of a couple's infertility can be identified as a complication with either the male, female, or even sometimes both.

There exists, though, a small percent of infertile couples in which the cause of their infertility is unknown or unexplained.  Aaron and I fell into that unique, tiny fraction of our population.

Every single test we ever had?  Normal.

Every blood draw?  Normal.

Every exam?  Normal.

Every doctor, every specialist indicated that we were perfectly and utterly normal.

But there is nothing normal about unexplained infertility.

In fact, with each normal or negative medical result we received, I felt increasingly alien, isolated, and alone.

I felt anything but "normal."

Monday, March 6, 2017

Slice Six - Hormones

A student once randomly asked me in class, "Mrs. Smith, what are hormones?"  Before I could compose myself and devise an age and school appropriate reply, another student stepped in with this brilliant response:

"Hormones are those feelings inside that don't make sense when you're feeling them."

Well said, young wise one...well said.

Even adults, unfortunately, have to deal with hormones.  Sometimes when my husband is particularly moody, I tease him that he's being "hormonal."  As a female, it's much, much worse.

For nine long, grueling months of our infertility process I took the fertility drug, Clomid, and the "feelings inside that don't make sense" completely took over my life!  I cried at anything and everything.  Literally...everything.  Baby commercials, commercials about dogs, memes on Facebook, bible verses, billboards, 80's rock ballads - you name it.  But then sometimes, amidst the crying, I would start hysterically laughing for no reason.  I remember one day crying on the couch and laughing at myself for crying, but not being able to control either emotion.  It was a nightmare!

Thankfully, when the Clomid treatments were over, I regained my sense of self.  And though the hormones did not serve their intended purpose, at least they reminded me to have just a little empathy for my precious hormone-driven students!

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Slice Five - Free Advice

When it comes to getting pregnant, everyone seems to be an expert.  Throughout our experience, beloved family members, friends, co-workers, and even relative strangers were always happy to offer a little free advice!

"Stay out of hot tubs!"

"Make sure you don't keep your phone in your pocket or have your laptop on your lap for too long."

"You know, you probably shouldn't ride rollercoasters any more."

"You might want to try a round of antibiotics."

"Have you thought about going on vacation?  Oh you have...  Maybe a different vacation then?"

"Perhaps a nice dinner and a bottle of wine will help."

"Definitely try standing on your head for a bit!"

"I read somewhere that drinking a cup of whole milk every day will increase your chances."

"You should just stop trying.  That's when it will happen."

"Go ahead and fill out some adoption paperwork.  My brother's friend's sister's aunt did that and then had a baby!"

And my personal favorite:  "It will happen if you just RELAX!"

Slice Four - Failure

My parents taught me at a very young age that I could accomplish anything if I set my mind to it.  Each goal I created and ultimately achieved throughout my childhood and young adult life helped cement this belief into the very core of my identity.  With enough willpower and effort, I knew any dream was within reach.

Armed with a clean genetics report and a whole lot of "can-do" attitude, I confidently strutted onto the path to parenthood.  I bought the What to Expect Before (yes, before...) You're Expecting book, downloaded all the most popular baby apps, spent hours studying lists of baby names and pregnancy symptoms, and purchased a small box of tests.  I exercised reasonably, counted my calories, consumed adequate amounts of fruits and vegetables, switched from coffee to green tea, drank plenty of water, and tried to get the recommended eight hours or more of sleep every night.  If anyone could get pregnant, it was me!

But then I didn't...

I still remember that first negative test - I just stood in the kitchen and sobbed in Aaron's arms.  It was my fault.  Surely, I must have done something wrong.  When I finally stopped feeling sorry for myself,  I wiped my tears and determined I would just have to try harder.  I reexamined my game plan, made a few adjustments, and set out to try again.

The following month, I faced the same crushing disappointment.  Just as before, I fell apart, then picked myself up and tried again.

And then again,

And again...

Eventually I realized, for the first time in all of my life, I failed.  No amount of willpower or effort could get me through this.  One word resonated over and over in my head and like a poison, slipped into my heart and began to dissolve the truths that had carried me for so long:


Friday, March 3, 2017

Slice Three - Genetics

A human being is comprised of precisely twenty-three neatly packed, meticulously organized pairs of microscopic genetic instructions called chromosomes.  In order to create life, each set must be perfect, flawless.  Even one minute imperfection could prevent life all together or in some cases cause irreversible physical or cognitive damage.

My precious little sister is mentally handicapped - her condition likely the result of a chromosomal abnormality.  Aaron's uncle (on his mother's side) also faced mental and physical challenges during his lifetime resulting from some small, seemingly insignificant alteration in his own genetic structure.

Twenty-three pairs of genetic code, too small to even see, can make such tremendous impact in the formation of our existence.

For this reason, our road to parenthood began quietly, secretively, with a single blood draw in the office of a genetics counselor.  We had to make sure, before even considering bringing a life into this world, that we were not somehow carrying the tiniest chromosomal imperfection.

After an excruciating wait, we finally received our results.


Our genes passed every test, and we were ready and able (or so we thought) to pass this precious cargo on to our own little miraculous creation.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Slice Two - When I Grow Up

"What do you want to be when you grow up?"

From a very young age, I always knew a response to that daunting question.  At first, I said I wanted to be a pediatrician.  Then, I claimed that I wanted to be a physical therapist.  Eventually, I answered my personal calling to become a teacher.

But somewhere, deep in my heart, one answer was consistently the same throughout my lifetime...I wanted to be a mother.

I can still remember being three or four years old and hearing a child cry in a different aisle of the grocery store.  I would ask my own mother if I could go comfort her.  I would find the crying baby, kneel down beside her, and gently calm her.  When we played "house" in kindergarten, my friends routinely assigned me the role of "mom."  One of my family's favorite home movies to this day is the one in which Santa brought me a shopping cart full of plastic groceries.  I was just under two years old.  Instead of playing with my new toys, I instinctually took each food item to my infant sister and tried to feed her.

Being a mother was natural.  It was just something I was supposed to do.

Until it wasn't...

My parents struggled with infertility.  Aaron's parents did too.  Somehow, even before it was real - before we whispered the words of "parenthood" out loud - I knew we would face the same frustration.  What I did not realize, however, is how much it would hurt, how much my entire identity as I knew it would be destroyed, how I would have to face the deepest, darkest facets of myself and fall apart completely before I could find my path again.