I was 20 when I found out that having a family was going to be a struggle for me. A college junior, I was more into appearance and partying than family building so the thing that tipped me off wasn’t my inability to conceive but my inability to lose weight, the fact that my hair was thinning, and that I had acne that just wouldn’t go away.
My first diagnosis was hypo-thyroidism, an easily medicated hormonal imbalance. About a year after my diagnosis, I sat in the waiting room at the dermatologist’s office and read an article about women living with PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome). Hmmm…absent periods, acne, hair where you don’t want it and not enough where you do…that sounds like me. After months of pushing the doctors to look again, it was official. I did, indeed, have PCOS. My doctor handed me a prescription for metformin (to regulate my blood sugar and help with weight gain) and sent me on my way, assuring me that one day, I would get pregnant.
Fast forward through 10 years of hard living and harder working as a cook and a pastry chef. At age 30, I had lived in several cities on a couple of continents, and I had been married for 5 years. It was time to pull the goalie, as they say. So, after one final appearance as a bridesmaid, I quit taking my birth control, and we decided to try the old fashioned way. In 7 months of trying, I got my period a total of 3 times. When we had been trying for a few months with no luck, I began live a little healthier: yoga once a week, Weight Watchers, and biweekly visits to my acupuncturist. My cycles were totally out of whack. So, “trying” was just for fun, whenever the mood struck us. One fateful day, my college girlfriends were on their way into town for a girls weekend. ”You better get it out of the way before we arrive!” they said. And, so, the deed was done. 9 months later, the love of my life (and her father’s) arrived.
My pregnancy met minimal complications: an anterior placenta and mild pre-eclampsia which eventually led to an induction at 39 weeks. She was perfect, though. (She did spend 2 weeks in the NICU, but that’s a story for another time.) 4 weeks postpartum, we were finally having our newborn photos shot when I started hemorrhaging. My husband called the ambulance, and I was rushed to the ER where they told me that my period had returned. I tell you, no woman on earth has ever had a period like this. The bleeding subsided, and I thought everything was ok. A week later, more bleeding, worse this time. Another ride in an ambulance to discover that I had a retained placenta that required an emergency D&C and a blood transfusion. Whoa. The girl may have been perfect but she broke the mold on her way out.
When O was 7 months old, I stopped nursing and got my period back. So, we decided to try for #2, with no indications from our doctors that we had anything to be concerned about. In fact, we thought it would be easier the second time, as it was for so many others. This time, though, I was busy caring for an infant and not enough for myself. I remembered to take my metformin on occasion and certainly didn’t have time for acupuncture. Yet, after 7 months of trying, I found myself pregnant again. Bittersweet, we learned of our pregnancy the same weekend my husband lost his grandmother.
Sadly, it wasn’t meant to be. I miscarried at 9 weeks and was once again scheduled for a D&C. I quickly recovered with the hopes that we would soon try again and put our loss behind us. Well, I can tell you that 364 days after my D&C, I am still not pregnant again. But, when a pregnancy test 5 weeks after my procedure was again positive, I was elated. That hope was shattered: not pregnant, just hanging onto another placenta. It took 9 months, 2 rounds of methotrexate, 2 operative hysteroscopies and 2 tests for me to be cleared to once again try again.
In February of this year, I began taking Femara for a medicated, timed cycle at home. 2 weeks into our cycle, we found out that my husband’s sperm morphology was less than ideal. We had hit yet another roadblock. How had it come to this? How had no one thought to test him? We completed the cycle, switching gears to IUI at the last minute to improve our chances, but we failed.
Frustrated, hurt, and angry, we left our doctor’s practice and moved onto a fresh pair of eyes. They ran every test in the book and looked for anything and everything that might get in the way of conception, and we were then designated as candidates for IVF, specifically ICSI (where the sperm is actually injected into the retrieved egg to guarantee fertilization during the IVF process).
Now, we wait and we hope. There are a few more labs to review and a vacation to be taken. But in June of this year, we will take our journey to the last frontier of reproduction with the hopes that it will enable us to FINALLY complete our family.
But if we fail, and we might, I am already a mother. There are no words to describe my love for my sweet, sweet girl, and if she needs to be, she will be enough. Motherhood is messy, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
I write recipes for a living, and it should be noted that elegant prose is not my strong suit. This blog was meant to be a food blog, but along the way it morphed into something else. I needed a way to work through my feelings, to remove the shame of infertility, and to put my story out there. When I started to do that, I was shocked at the number of responses I got from women who were suffering in silence, alone in their struggles as well. When you talk about your pain, when you put it out there for the world to see, the pain becomes smaller. And, something that permeates every thought you have, every moment of your life, every breath you ever take, becomes a little less significant.
I was inspired to write this post when I read this on Before the Belly:
“It makes me wonder: what if, instead of resisting our truth, we all told everyone we know? That we had a miscarriage, that it was devastating. That we’re struggling to get pregnant and wonder if we’ll ever be a mom. That we did fertility treatment to get our baby and we’re SO happy and proud. What if we took the silence out of struggle and loss? What if we took the shame and fear out of fertility treatment? Who could we help and what kind of community would it create?”
She says it so much more eloquently than I do, but the message is the same. Speak up, and take the first step towards healing yourself.
This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!