Back in May of 1989, my dad was diagnosed with metastacized melanoma. The doctors announced he would die in four months to two years. The week before his diagnosis, my husband and I moved into his house--a money-saving maneuver following my husband's graduation from Yale Divinity School. We were going to save money to buy our own home and get established in our newly married life together. (We celebrated our two year anniversary that summer.)
My dad immediately quit his job and my husband got fired from his new job (at a bank, which is hilarious, looking back). My husband could not find a job in his chosen field (church ministry). I worked full-time while my dad and my husband--the two men I loved most in the world--puttered around the house, got on each other's nerves and waited for me to get home.
My husband and I had planned to wait two years before we had children. I had the whole thing planned--we wanted to have five children, evenly spaced three years apart. I even picked out their names. During my long, boring hours at an office, I dreamed of staying at home and taking care of the babies.
That summer, as we watched my 47-year old father decline, my husband and I decided to go ahead and try to get pregnant sooner rather than later. I wanted desperately for my father to see his first grandchild.
The first month, my period was late. I took a pregnancy test and it was negative. From the very first month, I knew deep down inside that we would not get pregnant. My regular gynecologist brushed off my concerns, looked at my cervical mucus, declared I was ovulating at that very moment and sent me home to conceive. When my period failed to materialize and the pregnancy test remained negative, the doctor gave me birth control pills to bring on menstruation and then scheduled me for a hysterosalpingogram (HSG).
Boy, that was fun. I'd been a modest patient prior to my HSG. On that day, I was placed in stirrups and then introduced to the male doctor who proceeded to pry open my cervix and place all manner of contraptions inside . . . and I still remember that the equipment broke and I had to wait while they scrambled for a new package. Then, in this awkward position, stuffed with hard instruments and tubes and balloons, I scooted down the table and my uterus and fallopian tubes were flooded with dye and photographed. And lucky me, I got the all clear.
And they told me, "You have a great chance to get pregnant now, after this procedure." I knew a girl at my workplace who actually got pregnant after her HSG. I had great hopes.
Which were dashed. Next up: a post-coital test, which required my husband and I to do the deed at 6:00 a.m., so I could go to the doctor and have the little swimmers analyzed. That test was inconclusive.
So, the doctor put me on Clomid, since my irregular cycles seemed to be the source of our problems. Perhaps I was not ovulating.
I spent every month waiting, anxiously, going to the bathroom stall repeatedly, counting down days obsessively, crying. Oh yeah. Did I mention that my dad died, only two months into our attempts to get pregnant? He only got four months. He was 47. I was 24.
It was only after several cycles that it occurred to the doctor to test my husband. And then, Houston, we have a problem.
The doctor said, "Well, it appears that you have a count of one million." We were exuberant. One million!
That's a lot! Well, actually, no. The low side of average was 20 million. We were missing about 19 million of the little dudes.
We had a choice, then. Proceed with intra-uterine insemination, hope for the best, spend money we didn't have, look towards IVF, hope for the best, spend money we didn't have, go through the emotional torture of not getting pregnant while every single woman of child-bearing age that I knew was pregnant or lactating--including two friends who got pregnant despite birth control and one sixteen year old who terminated her inconvenient twelve-week pregnancy . . . or just stop. And adopt.
My husband would say things like, "Well, maybe this is a sign from God. Let's just wait for five years and if we're not pregnant by then, we can adopt."
I sobbed and stomped and carried on and questioned the very foundation of my faith. Why would God deprive me of the one thing I ever wanted? Why would God deny me the experience of being a mother? What horrible thing had I done in some previous lifetime that I was being punished in this way? Five years might as well be five thousand. I could not live that long.
My friends said things like, "Do it in a hot tub" and "Just relax." I cried a lot. I tried to pray, but I wasn't so sure God heard me or that He even liked me. My husband thought I was over-reacting. He didn't understand that I would fly to the moon to have a baby. I wanted nothing else but the ordinary miracle of being pregnant, the miracle that so many millions of women just took for granted and even despised.
Adoption is not as easy as people think. Even now, I hear people say, "Well, someday if we want a daughter, we'll just adopt." Or, "I had my tubes tied, but if we decide to have another baby, we'll just adopt."
Just adopt. Hardy-har-har. As if it's that easy.
First of all, it costs a ton of money.
Secondly, your entire fate rests in the hands of a birthmother who decides whether or not to choose your family based on your names. Or your hair color. Or the kind of dog you have. If you are uncomfortable with that, you can choose international adoption, which can cost even more, plus you get the added benefit of having no history of the child whatsoever. I mean, obviously, it's way more complicated that I can even convey here. It's not "just adopt." No way.
We waited and waited and waited. Rejection, rejection, rejection. Then, after several potential adoptions fell through (more tears, more snot, more lying on the bathroom floor in mourning), a birthmother chose us for her twins. Hooray, much rejoicing, woo-hoo, and hallelujah! And then a week before we expected them to be placed with us (it was all very complicated since they were already 5 months old and the birthfather chose not to cooperate), we received a call. Birthmother changed her mind. Sorry.
I have never had a blacker night, a more hopeless pit of darkness. I truly thought God hated me. Despite that, I decided I would trust Him. What else could I do?
Several phone calls, much holding of breath later, those twins became ours after all.
Fast forward four years later. I have moved on from my longing to be pregnant. I grieved the loss of the experience of feeling a baby squirm within my body, of nourishing a baby at my breast, of participating in the labor and birth of my own genetic offspring. And then, I found myself pregnant.
Against all odds. I was eight weeks along before I even tested. My entire nine months was perfect. I threw up twice, I slept a lot, I reveled in my enormous belly and my waddle. I winced at the smell of eggs. And nine days past my due date, I labored for 43 hours and gave birth in my bedroom, surrounded by a team of women and midwives and my very shell-shocked husband.
The experience was everything I knew it would be. Even the agony, the pain, the "I can't do this", the sweat, the tears, the hours without sleep, the shaking during transition and the screams during the birth.
I had a baby boy.
Four years later, lightening struck again and I became pregnant with my daughter. At 38, my body groaned and creaked and ached more than my prior pregnancy, but my birth was a delicious painful six hour roller-coaster of hollers and hoots. I hadn't planned to labor that day since I wasn't due for another three days. I ignored the contractions for hours, denied that contractions every three minutes were really labor and the midwife arrived less than two hours before my baby girl wriggled her way out in a big hurry.
Here's the thing.
My happy endings do not negate the grievous pain of my infertility. I know, I know
, what it feels like to cry every month and to withdraw into the sanctuary of my bedroom and to practically drool with envy at the pregnant bellies in grocery stores. I never, never, never take my pregnancy and my blessings for granted.
I do wish now that I had been able to somehow enjoy that childless stage of my life more. I wish I hadn't spent so much time wallowing in the pain, but on the other hand, it was necessary for me to really experience
the experience. Perhaps the dismal times make my life now seem sweeter.
When I was infertile, I was hostile. A lot. A woman I met once had adopted nine children and they were all teens and it was going badly and she had nothing good to say about parenting. I wanted her to shut up. A woman told me about her neighbor who adopted a baby and then got pregnant with twins. I wanted her to shut up. A woman I met had three kids in three years and belly-ached about the trauma of dealing with them. All the feel-good--or feel-bad--stories of well-meaning friends and acquaintances did not make me feel good. They made me feel ungrateful and wrong. And furious.
I did not want to hear happy stories.
I wanted to talk about my sadness.
I wanted someone to listen.
Not to give advice.
I did not want the burden of educating people about infertility and the statistics about exactly how many will conceive spontaneously versus how many will conceive after adopting (the same percentage, of course).
And now I find myself in a weird no-man's-land. I am infertile, yet I have four children. After dabbling in the world of doctors and medicines, I chose to birth at home. Now, we are in the bizarre position of wondering if a vasectomy is in our future.
I never had a miscarriage, nor a stillbirth. I never lost a baby or a child. I have friends who did--one lost a baby nine days before his due date to a freakish cord accident. Another lost her baby on the way to the hospital when her cord prolapsed. One lost a baby at 37 weeks due to an undiagnosed blood disorder.
I don't know that pain. True.
But I know the pain of infertility and I know the joy of adoption and I know the miracle of birth. All of it fills me with compassion and knowledge and speechlessness, for there's nothing you can say to an infertile woman without her wanting to slap you.
So be it. I was there once and I understand, despite now living in a shoe with so many children I don't know what to do. Sometimes pain is all you have to hold on to, it's all that buoys you along until you reach land and if someone pipes up with a story, you want to swat them away like a mosquito. That's okay. I understand.