I went into fertility cocky and full of energy. I was paying for everything out of pocket as I went so that I did not incur any debt. I just bought a house in a great school district and everything seemed to be going as planned.
Three years, ten inseminations and one in vitro fertilization later, I was lacking in confidence, overweight, weepy and I didn’t know how I was going to survive not being able to pull this off. My acquired two credit cards to charge my procedures and medications since I could no longer pay things off as I went. My mind questioned everything - Should I just hire a surrogate? Why did I buy this house? Why is this happening to me?
I am embarrassed to type the following but it’s only fair that I do. During this time, I saw the same family in the grocery store every time I was there. The husband and wife were quite obese pushing a cart full of unhealthy, processed food. They were surrounded by four children who were also overweight, unruly and into everything. It was while hearing an exchange at the checkout counter that I learned that she was pregnant with her fifth child.
It’s their choice to be obese and eat what they do. How they raise their children is their business. Yet seeing them in the store enraged me every time yet I could not look away like it was some fiery train wreck. Here I am relatively healthy, with healthy foods in my basket and I can’t get pregnant. There they were unhealthy, overrun by children and they could not stop getting pregnant. The universe put them there to taunt me.
When I was in the waiting phase between insemination and waiting for the pregnancy test result, I took great care of myself. I made sure that I got plenty of sleep, ate my vegetables, meditated and enjoyed my morning walks. Once the ball dropped and I learned that I was not pregnant, my health choices went out the window. Yes, I still got sleep and went on my walks, but my car knew the way to my favorite burger joint. The staff there knew my order by heart and greeted me as a familiar friend. My water glass found itself full of bourbon and ginger ale. I cried a lot without the need for any outside stimulus.
I remember like it was yesterday sitting in my specialist’s office once the third and final doctor gave up on my fertility. I was visibly depressed and I didn’t want anyone to see my body. My doctor noticed that I held myself differently during my physical exams as I tried to hide my large belly under the paper gown. I was at my heaviest weight ever when my in vitro procedure failed of 198 pounds. My mind dwelled on just how close my body was to 200 pounds. It made me sick. Then, my doctor, my nerdy, scientist guy doctor said these words, “You really need to lose some weight.”
I was too angry to say anything, but in my mind, I was screaming. Fertility had put over 25 plus pounds on my body. Yes, I was never fit and trim, but before all of the drugs and procedures, I was healthy. Here was the man who wrote the script for the majority of the drugs I had ingested for three years telling me that I needed to lose some weight.
Something happened in my brain at that moment. It was a combination of depression, anger and a strong desire for change. My friend Lori who experienced a similar fertility fate gave me some great advice. She told me to allow myself to grieve after fertility before I jump into any other process. You owe it to yourself to recover fully so that you go into the next process whole. This was great advice for me especially since I was the type to jump head first into new adventures before fully recovering from the last one.
It was fall 2010. I told myself to use this time to do research on adoption agencies and take excellent care of myself. The research on adoption agencies took a longer time than planned since many agencies would not even talk to me since I was a single person. Many of them were religious in nature and they would not take my word for it that I was not a lesbian. The price tags on adoption agencies spooked me a bit. Of course, they were less than fertility treatments, but keep in mind that I was already in debt from trying to conceive.
I had been taking pilates from my favorite trainer, Tonya since 2005. I had toyed with the idea of stepping things up and work with her privately for more intense sessions. After my in vitro procedure, I walked into her studio and she gasped at my body. She pointed at my breasts, “What are those things”? Then, she pointed to my belly, “What is all this?” I felt like a beached whale being eyed by the spectators on the shore.
The same tenacity that I devoted to my fertility was now aimed at my body. My trainer put me on a cleansing diet consisting of no processed foods or sugars, lots of water, lean protein and heaps of vegetables. My earlier habit of trying to learn to run with my new running app escalated into training for an upcoming race that quickly turned into multiple races. I was getting up at 5:30am to run between three to six miles every other day.
This is also the time that I found a belly dancing studio around the corner. I had taken dance classes before, but with close girl friends by my side. This time, I walked in solo and braved the beginner series. Soon, I was purchasing unlimited dance passes so that I could return several days a week.
Intermediate pilates turned into occasional advanced pilates classes. I saw my trainer once a week for an hour on Thursday nights where she literally wore me out. Sometimes after class, I would find the energy to get into my car and wait for a second wind to drive myself home.
Now, please don’t read this as me using exercise to recover from fertility. I exercised three hours a day. Was I happy? Nope. I wasn’t happy. I was frustrated and I needed a safe place to release my frustration. Some people go to a bar, I went to a pilates studio and belly dancing class. It helped, but it didn’t make me happy. I was still someone who desperately wanted to become a mother without a child.
I went to see a counselor. My work place suddenly announced during this time that employees got six free sessions with a counselor a year as part of their benefits. It was like the universe was trying to force me into professional help and it knows my favorite word, free. I signed up immediately with the next available counselor.
You are not going to believe this but the random counselor that I was assigned went through years of fertility and an adoption. Good grief. She asked me some good, hard questions, but what helped was hearing her go through her ordeal. As a single person going through fertility, you are isolated. Yes, I had a fantastic support system of friends and family, but at the end of the doctor’s session, I was alone. My failed pregnancy attempts were just mine. I had no one else to experience the heartbreak with me. Listening to this counselor describe her situation, the setbacks, the heartbreak and the sudden turn of events that brought her doctor into her life was what I needed to hear. I was not alone. The universe was not against me.
When fertility fails, it’s like a death of a dream. In my head, my younger self envisioned my motherhood journey with pregnancy. When you have to admit to yourself that things are not going to work out the way you want them, it’s like a death. You can never have those dreams again. And with every death, you have to grieve. You need to cry, get out your frustrations, talk to other people who had to bury the same dream and wait for the fog to lift.
It’s hard to explain to others what compels you to work so hard and go through so much to try to become pregnant. Infertility is never a roadblock that people think that will happen to them. Most of us worry about the opposite, getting pregnant before you are ready. I was so confident approaching my first few inseminations that I seemed almost cocky. “Nope, I can’t do it that month because that means it’s due in August, a really bad time for work.” Yeah, I actually said that, out loud to someone else.
Most people did not question my intentions. Instead, I got the face and pointed questions. You know the face I am talking about - it’s the one someone uses when they are listening to someone who doesn’t know what they are talking about. The questions took a variety of forms. You know, you don’t have to do this to get a kid, right? There are heaps of children in foster care that need good homes. Why not give one of them a home? Are you just trying to make a mini-version of yourself? (That last question came from family and seemed very strange to me.)
During those three plus years struggling with infertility, you could not convince me to stop, not even with the most logical argument. I was on a mission to experience something that I had dreamed about since I was a young child. I imagined feeling the first kicks, experiencing cravings and seeing a small baby emerge from my body. When I would spend time with my brother’s kids, I would marvel at how much they would favor a specific parent in looks and mannerisms. I wanted that. I know, it’s hard to explain.
I think of my fertility inseminations in three chapters. The first chapter consistent of three inseminations were full of over-confidence. During my first try, I refused fertility medication. In fact, I was actually a bit offended that my doctor suggested it. Once the procedure was over and I had to wait two weeks for a result, I told myself that I was pregnant. I “acted” pregnant, rubbing my belly and telling myself that every “symptom” I could see meant that I was pregnant. I remember my shock after my first insemination when I found out that I was not pregnant with my period starting. I cried all day. It seemed so unfair, but it was well deserved. I fear what kind of end result would have occurred if it worked that quickly.
The next chapter was me asking for help by switching from my doctor to a fertility specialist. It was humbling, but I loved my new nerdy doctor and all of his scientific explanations for what could be happening. This chapter consisted of actually four attempts but really only three inseminations. During one of my attempts, my body was ramping up for the procedure and then everything just stopped. That was hard, taking all of those medications and having regular blood work to monitor my progress. It was in this chapter that my brain started to consider the inevitable, this may not happen.
The last chapter of my fertility were my dark days. It consisted of three inseminations and in vitro fertilization. My medication dosages were doubling with each attempt. I could feel the toll on my body. During the procedure, my confident demeanor was replaced with a quiet person with handfuls of lucky charms that people gave me to hold, rub or place on my belly. When I was moved to in vitro fertilization, it was incredibly humbling. My body was betraying me and I was being punished from my over-confident ways.
I will never know the reason why my body could not become and stay pregnant. Once I stopped and grieved the end of this fertility journey, I could feel this collective gasp of relief in my loved ones. Going through infertility alone was tough. No one was with me or wanted this to work as much as me. I have great friends who listened to me cry and complain throughout the procedures, but at the end of the conversation, I was alone with this failure.
You are not going to believe me, but now sitting on this side of my motherhood journey, I realize that failing in fertility was a great thing. Things happen for a reason. It’s really true. Failure and tragedy are awful things to experience but on the other side of them, you learn volumes about yourself and your loved ones.
Misery makes you a broken record as you whine and cry to your loved ones. It takes a couple of plays of that record to realize who in your life is strong enough to take it. You see who leaves immediately when there is no reward for themselves. Fake friends poof into thin air. Even family members show their true sides during this time. When the music is over, you can see who in your life has earned the hallmark of being “a loved one”. The result may surprise you.
So yes, my body will never experience pregnancy from beginning to end, but it’s OK. My life has given birth to so many great things and experiences. Now I sit here in my non-stretch marked body and the maternity aftermath ready to enjoy the craziness of motherhood.
When people ask me what is the most devastating thing to happen to me in my lifetime, I used to say my parents’ divorce. It wasn’t so much for my parents not being together since they brought out the worst in each other. It was because of the turmoil and sudden change that it brought to my life. One day, I had a bedroom, neighborhood friends and a home. The next, we were living upstairs in my grandparents’ house unsure how our life will play out one day to the next. Looking from a distance, it appeared that my life had taken an immediate right turn. Now, my answer to that question has changed.
The most devastating thing to happen to me was my miscarriage after my eighth try to become pregnant. My doctor was nearly ready to give up on me having me up my medicines with each try. Nothing was happening, though with every try, I felt like it was. My body always displayed the signs of pregnancy after each try and my period was always quite late. It seems like my reproductive system was simply playing cat and mouse with me.
It was October. My grandfather died during the previous month after six months of various hospital stays. One spring day, he was watching men working in his yard trimming his tree. He decided that he wanted to work on the tree as well. While looking up, he fell off a wall and hit his head. He made several minor recoveries but in the end, he could not survive this. The impact of grief on my family was great.
I almost skipped my next insemination because I was still upset from his loss, but I decided that he would have wanted me to and did it anyway. Then, I learned that I was pregnant! I was in great shock. I remember walking into my aunt’s house while everyone was there saying, “I have news!” The room exploded and my grandmother said repeatedly that my grandfather surely had a hand in it. It was like a joy had descended on my family after that black cloud of his illness and passing.
My doctor was relieved since I was proving quite a puzzle. My duties included regular monitoring during this fragile time. Chemicals start doubling and tripling in your body during the first few weeks after conception. Numbers were being rattled off. My numbers were never quite where my doctor wanted them to be, falling just short of the double mark. I wasn’t worried, there was life inside me finally. I would lie in bed rubbing my belly excited for the future.
After Thanksgiving, the tests continued. During this time, I was part of an interview committee at work. Candidates were coming in every hour for a set of questions. By the end of the day, we had to share our recommendation. One final interview left and our candidate was not here. It gave me a moment to check my voicemail since I received a message from my doctor’s office. Over a voicemail, I was told that the numbers for my chemicals plummeted and that I was going to have a miscarriage.
My body immediately went into automatic. It got me out of my chair, back into the room where I asked my share of questions. Outside, I appeared tired, but inside I was numb. I remember walking out of that room, back to my office to grab my purse then immediately turning on my heels to run for my car. Yes, I ran. I ran through another building to save some time. As I burst through the doors on the outside side of that building, my grief finally emerged. I let out a combination of a scream and cry that my body has never produced before. It amazes me to this day that I made it to my car. I drove home in a fit of rage. Thank God that I did not hurt anyone on the drive home.
Bear with me since most of the events afterward were a blur. It was like a lifetime of rage emerged out of my body that night. I managed to call some friends, though I believe that talked to voicemails. Once I got home, I remember slamming the door and immediately trying to destroy everything in my house. There were photos of my grandfather immediately as you walk into my house. They were the first victims to my rage. I blamed him for making this happen though I don’t know why. There was lots of screaming and crying. Several times I hit the floor in a loud thud. I didn’t care. I didn’t care if I hurt myself. My body had betrayed me.
Quietly there was a knock on the door. It was a friend who learned about my miscarriage. I refused to let her inside. My rage was too great and I was past being polite for company. She refused to leave until she had “laid eyes on me”. I opened the door. Blur. She hugged me and I cried. She asked me questions and I remember answering them, but there was no way that I was making sense. Another friend came over later per her suggestion. She left the hospital around the corner where her sister gave birth to her niece. In one day, my friend was seeing someone’s world change for the good and another person’s life change for the bad.
There was alcohol and hamburgers per my request. By the end of the night, I was worn out from the release of all that rage. To this day, I am still in awe of how much anger can reside inside someone’s soul.
My doctor agreed to let me try again after that since he was relieved to know that I could get pregnant, but you already know how this story ends. After that one more insemination was in vitro fertilization and the end of the road. My final doctor looking back stated that she believes that I was having miscarriages all along my fertilization journey. My body was simply refusing to stay pregnant. It turns out that my stubborn streak goes down into my ovaries.
The most devastating thing to happen to me was my brief eight weeks of pregnancy ending abruptly and unlocking a huge rage that lived deep in my soul. Never before have I scared myself by my own emotional state. The world seemed like a cold, dark place for those 24 hours. It took longer for me to recover emotionally than it did physically.
That December, I was waiting for the miscarriage to happen. It took 10 days for my body to release this pregnancy. Since I like to use projects to divert my attention, I had a handful of friends over to help me lay stepping stones in my yard. They were heavy and unforgiving. With one of many heavy lifts, I could feel something release in my body. Once my friends left, I confirmed that my miscarriage had begun. Part of me believes that I scheduled this heavy lifting to force this event to occur. The image on the ultrasound haunted me as it laid in a suspended state of development like a baby tadpole. I was ready to release it and move on in some way. With it’s passing, it took a bit of my goodness that was replaced only when I met my son for the first time.
When my ten inseminations failed and my doctor scheduled a chat with me, I suspected that I knew that my attempts were going to take a deeper turn into in vitro fertilization. My doctor had been upping my medicines with each procedure and he was unsure why this was happening. His office did not handle in vitro fertilizations but they worked in partnership with a practice in Charlotte that did. Once a month, they visited their offices and met new patients.
I will confess, there were several times during my meeting with my in vitro doctor that I got a bad feeling, almost like she was trying to scare me away. She kept repeating my age as if she was trying to give me a secret clue. When she looked at my ovaries with the ultrasound, she looked disappointed. In my gut, I thought about saying, “Nah”, but I was too cowardly to stop. I don’t do failure well. Walking away from fertility was my version of failure.
Just in case you don’t know the realities of in vitro fertilization, let me give you my take on this process.
First, your doctor must take control over your ovaries and make them pump out as many eggs as possible. Most months, my body made one egg. During one of my ultrasounds, there were potentially twenty eggs on deck in my ovaries. Doctors take control using lots and lots of drugs. I promise you, you have never seen this amount of drugs before in your life unless you are part of some kind of drug cartel.
One round of drugs for in vitro fertilization costs over $6,000. This round of drugs comes in one large, refrigerated box to your door. It’s full of shots that you have to assemble and give yourself daily. As the procedure approaches, the needle for the shot grows in size to the point that you cannot give it to yourself. I had to arrange friends to come over daily to give me a shot. You take these shots for at least one full month.
During my consultation with the doctor, she told me that I would gain between 20-25 pounds in one month due to the shots. I thought she said this to me to scare me, but unfortunately it was true. Your ovaries go from the size of small walnuts to small apples during this time. You feel like complete crap since it feels like your belly is full of liquid. Getting dressed to go to work while gaining 25 pounds in 4 weeks is completely unpleasant. One day I remember having to work in my yoga pants because literally nothing would fit.
I cried a lot during this time. I also laughed at lot during this time. My emotional state was like a busy see saw on a kindergarten playground. No one could say the right thing to me. My feelings were always on the brink of complete meltdown. I remember being worried about my co-workers during this month. They knew everything and were patient with me, but at times, kept their distance to protect themselves. I created a safe word for my co-workers to use when they saw me at work getting too emotional. When I heard that word, “elephant”, that was my cue to go back to my office and calm myself down.
It was becoming summer time going from May into June while I was taking these drugs. I remember having trouble sleeping since I was always hot and breaking out into a sweat. Since I was on such a high level of drugs, I had to be monitored. This means that I went to the doctor every morning for an ultrasound. A goo-covered wand was inserted into my vagina every day for over two weeks to make sure that my ovaries did not get overstimulated.
When I started my journey to become pregnant, I was paying for everything out of pocket. Now, I was getting second credit card and a “medical loan” to charge all of my drugs, office visit co-pays, lab work and my two in vitro fertilization attempts special rate of $19,995. Here I was trying to enter the world of single parenthood deep in debt before the child was ever created. Financial worry ate at my brain every day. If I thought too long about the dollar signs, I would not sleep. No sleep and being overly emotional made me a dangerous and unapproachable combination.
Once your eggs are ready and before your body gets any crazy ideas to release them, you have a surgical procedure to remove the eggs from your body. I had never had a surgical procedure before in my life minus the removal of my wisdom teeth so I was quite nervous. My aunt drove me to Charlotte for the procedure. I remember my stomach being in knots and having to go to the bathroom a lot.
The procedure is done in their Charlotte offices. Rooms are really curtained off areas on one side of the building. I remember listening to the young woman beside me coming out of surgery. She was young and she was with her father. She was one of the women being paid to donate her eggs. I remember her saying repeatedly under the haze of her medication, “This wasn’t so bad. I would do this again, Dad. Yeah, it’s not that bad.” I stared at the ceiling and talked to God. “God, I don’t want to do this again, please let this time be the only time that I have to do this.” Well, he answered it in his strange, weird way.
When it’s your turn for the procedure, you have to walk into the operating room since your body has to be in a strange position for the procedure. You have to help them get you in this position. I remember my legs shaking as I walked on the cold floor with my bare feet trying to hold my hospital gown closed. Once I got on the table, my shaking moved from my legs to my entire body. Every person in that room could see instantly that I was nervous. The doctor and nurses tried to get me to move into a specific position, but I could not move. After a few minutes of their masked faces looking into my eyes telling me to move, the doctor said, “Just put her under, she is too nervous to help us.”
I woke in my curtained room with my aunt holding my clothes. It seemed like hours but from beginning to recovery, it’s only 20-30 minutes. I was loopy and weepy. They had me leave shortly after waking. I was ready to eat lunch and take my pain pill. After a sandwich somewhere, I drifted off to sleep in my aunt’s car and eventually in my bed at home.
Then, you wait typically 3-5 days for the sperm you bought on the Internet to mix with your eggs. Out of the twenty potential eggs in my body, they could only harvest nine of them. Nine little eggs were swimming with some guys sperm in a petri dish by the time I was in my bed in Greensboro. The doctor’s office calls you daily with updates. You get only 24 hours notice when you have to return to have them placed back into your body.
Getting updates about this is strange. “Everything looks fine. Looks like six of them took and they are developing well.” I remember not knowing what kinds of questions to ask. I said, “Ok, thanks.” It was the last day of June when I had my procedure. I remember being worried about ruining my aunt’s July 4th holiday if my return fell on that day. We needed to borrow someone’s van since I was told that once they were placed back inside me that I would need to lay as flat as possible.
On July 4th, I was directed to return on July 5th. Since I would have to lie flat for several days after the procedure, I asked off work. This was when I got on FMLA so my employer knew something was up but I did not tell them what was happening. Only my co-workers knew what procedure I was actually having done.
On July 5th, I woke nervous, but ready. I wanted this procedure behind me. I wanted these drugs out of my system. I wanted my belly to return to normal since I still felt like a beached whale. My phone rang, it was the doctor’s office. I was told not to return. All of my eggs died overnight. Apparently this has never happened before and the nurse suggested that I should probably not try again. That was it. I begged to talk to the doctor, but he was busy. I begged for a return call with an explanation, she promised to ask the doctor to call me.
My aunt was already on the way to my house. The phone call happened about 10 minutes before she was due to pick me up. I called her immediately to tell her but I didn’t make sense since I was already crying hysterically. It was over. I must stop now. I remember feeling lost. For the past ten years, I had been preparing to become a mother by finding a secure job, buying a house in a good school district and taking trips before my chances were gone. Now, all of that was for nothing.
I cried a lot that day. My aunt took me out for breakfast. When the waitress came took my order, I said, “I want bacon and bourbon.” That’s what I ate. Then my aunts and cousin took me swimming. When you plan to cry most of the day, standing in a swimming pool is a good choice since you are wet already. The doctor did finally call me back after 4pm, 7 hours later. He told me how this has never happened before but that I cannot get pregnant. My eggs will not stay pregnant. This is probably what was happening during all of my inseminations. To coax me into quitting, the doctor’s office even offered to return half of my two-attempt fee.
It’s three years later and I am still paying off those fertility drugs. I don’t regret making the decision to go down this dark path of in vitro fertilization. I can stand here today and tell you honestly that I did everything that I physically can do to get pregnant and it was not meant to be. On that July day, if you tried to comfort me, you would have failed. My head dove directly into the deep end of a depression. I failed. I hate everything about myself since my body had failed me. Now I was in debt, uncomfortably overweight and no baby in sight. No words could have reversed that feeling. Only time can heal those wounds.
At times, my life centered around the activity in my ovaries. If you stopped me walking down the hall and asked me where I was in my ovulation cycle, I could rattle it off in a heartbeat. When you concentrate too greatly on one small part of your life, you realize that you are letting too much of other, actually important things slip by without you noticing. I wasn’t a great friend, caretaker, employee or loved one during this time.
When I was in graduate school, I adopted a cat that I named Orson. He was the most affectionate cat that I ever had. Orson would literally lay on my pillow beside me at night with a paw on my shoulder. He was looking out for me and he realized that I was not always the best at looking after him. During the three years of my fertility treatments, his kidneys were failing. At night, he would literally scream at the top of his lungs. The vet gave me a warning when his kidneys started to fail, but the process seemed to go quickly. One morning, he refused to eat or even move. He laid at the end of my bed while I got dressed for work.
I dropped him off at the vet before work and told myself that everything was fine. It’s a virus, a minor thing. The vet will conjure up something to make him stop screaming. By lunch, she had already called me to report that his kidneys had completely stopped functioning and he was in a great deal of pain. Later that day, I sat in a clinic room holding him saying goodbye. He was still on an IV for pain as he ran circles in my lap trying to cuddle me as much as he could. I realized that I was so focused on becoming pregnant that I lost focus on him losing his battle with his kidneys. I cried hysterically for two hours before I would let the vet enter the room to give him that final shot.
When you are struggling with fertility, your relationship is altered a bit with other pregnant women. You are happy for them, but you also burn with red-hot envy. I felt guilty sometimes for my thoughts when I was around those pregnant women, but I am sure I was only being human. Waiting in the lobby of the doctor’s office surrounded by pregnant women was like sitting a modeling agency’s lobby with open sores on my face.
It was after a failed try that my brother and his wife decided to come to town to share the news that they were pregnant again with my lovely niece McKenna. My first thought was that we were going to be pregnant together. Yeah, this last try failed but this next one will work and we will have children who are close in age. That did not work. McKenna was conceived, gestated, born and almost four by the time that I became a mother.
I found myself aching for distractions. How could I stop thinking about what my body was failing to do. Ah yes, I know. I should enroll in graduate school. Having heaps of homework would keep me busy. I enrolled in a 18-month program convinced that I would not finish in time. That was fine. At least I was moving myself forward in some way. Of course I finished the program will almost two years to spare. Every time I registered for another semester, my thoughts would wonder back to, what if now is the time that this happens.
When fertility came and went and I found myself in the great long wait of adoption, I spend my first six months wearing myself out thinking that any moment I would get the call to go to the hospital to pick up an unwanted child. My body bounced back and forth to excitement to stress.
One day, I noticed that the left side of my face was breaking out and my ear felt on fire. My mind told me it was bug bites from working outside over the weekend. My garden was determined not to grow anything that season and I wasn’t giving up the battle. I put on more make-up than necessary and went on to work. Within the first hour, a co-worker entered my office and immediately started backing up. “Something is wrong with you. Something is wrong with you.” She left quickly and grabbed another co-worker. The second co-worker marched right up to my desk and demanded that I leave work at once. They thought that I was having some sort of allergic reaction. After hours in the lobby in the urgent clinic, it was determined that I had shingles. Before I could get home, they stretched my from left ear to my nose. I looked like I suffered a bad burn on my face with all of the blisters.
I immediately felt betrayed but my own body. Here I was trying to get ready for something big and my stress levels triggered shingles. It was an eye-opening experience. I was not allowed to come back to work until all of the blisters were gone. So there were four days of alone time at my house alone with my thoughts of how did I let myself get so stressed out. Sometimes you need a bout with illness to slow you down and realize that what you are doing is not working anymore.
Keeping my mind solely on becoming a mother was driving me completely crazy. I needed another focus. My stress levels were off the charts which negatively impacted the situation. Cue new obsessions. Now is the time to focus on something else other than myself.
I decided to volunteer at the local animal shelter. It made sense to my brain at the time. I wanted to become a mother and create a family. The dogs at the shelter wanted a “mother” and to join a family. We had the same purpose in life. We wanted someone to choose us and free us from this isolation.
So, I volunteered once a week after work to walk dogs for several hours. When dogs spend too long in their cage, they start going a bit crazy. They are not exactly make the best case to prospective families as they toured the facility. When someone gets them out of their cage and lets them run loose for a little bit, their temperment changes. Dogs go from wild, crazy animals to joyous and happy dogs with waggy tails. It was wonderful to watch this transformation. I yearned for this change in myself very soon.
When I was a little girl, I saw my future life much differently than this. I was going to travel the world, dance on every stage, be a teacher and a mommy all at the same time. Doing everything at the same time seemed very logical, but when you get older you realize that you can’t do everything well at the same time.
Yes, I waited too long to become a mother using my own body, but I don’t regret doing so. After high school, I went directly to college. My mother did not go to college. She relied heavily on the men in her life to take care of her and that ended badly. Working for one year after college graduation told me quickly that I needed more education to stand apart from my peers, so I enrolled in graduate school. After graduate school, I wanted to see more of the world. So, I got a Rotary scholarship and lived in Australia for a year. After that, I worked assorted jobs to both find my true career calling and travel with friends to Europe, South America and Canada.
Once I reached my mid-30s, I realized that while this was happening, something else was not happening. I was so determined to take care of myself and be self sufficient that I forgot to place any importance in any kind of romantic relationships. Honestly, I thought that aspect of my life would just happen without any specific effort on my part. Yes, I had a few dates and suitors, but nothing viable for the long haul. I was stuck in my ways or he was not the right fit or something that I told myself to explain what was not happening.
So, by 38, my plans of becoming a mother and experience pregnancy seemed out of reach. I had to change course radically to get this show on the road. I would have to go through this alone. It took some time to come to terms with this. Before any person takes on the role of single parent, I highly recommend serious moments of reflection and some chats with a counselor to ask the tough questions.
I talked to my gynecologist about insemination and what was involved. Don’t let my story be your sole education on this topic if you go this route. Every body is not the same. My body, for example, was starting the shutdown process on reproduction. My 28-day cycle was now closer to 52 days. Before my gynecologist could do anything, I had to go through months of tests and drugs just to normalize my cycle.
Before any inseminations happened, I decided that I needed to tell my family and close friends what was happening. I did it differently based on the person. For my parents, it was an one-on-one process. My mother was thrilled mainly because she wanted to be a grandmother and have a grandchild living in town. My father was worried about losing my job and everything that I worked for. My brothers were agreeable but confused by the timing and process. My close friends, most of them childfree by choice, were supportive yet they reminded me of the difficult journey in front of me.
While my gynecologist was preparing my body for pregnancy, it was my task to find a frozen pappa. This means visiting a sperm banks online, researching donors, making a payment and having it delivered to the doctor’s office at a specific date to place the contents in my uterus. Sounds romantic, huh? Not quite, in fact, this is literally as cold and heartless at it gets.
The sperm donor websites were entertaining. You ticked boxes for specific criteria that you were looking for like race, hair color, eye color, education, etc and the bank will pull up a list of candidates for you. Certain features were free with purchase of the sperm like basic medical information, but with additional payment you could download baby photos, hear clips of audio interviews with the candidate and detailed medical background information.
At first, looking for a donor was fun, like dating without the rejection, but all too soon, it was overwhelming. I found myself emailing close friends stats on various donors to help me decide. Then I realized that I needed more than advice via email, but I needed a village of women to see the details and help me make a decision.
So, I threw a sperm party. Yes, it is weird, so is insemination. At times, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the weirdness of the situation. If you get overwhelmed, step back and take a break, but in order to get through tough situations, you have to embrace the weird, lean into the weird and celebrate the weird. My version of celebrating the weird was a sperm party.
A sperm party is when the host narrows down the top candidates to a top chosen few. She frames baby photos of the candidates and posts details about them in her living room for a group of women to decide. These women are people who I trust who will play an important role in the life of the child. For a comical touch, I had a pin-the-sperm-on-the-uterus game board hanging up on the wall and a cartoon sperm on the front door thanking everyone for “coming”. There were popsicles in the freezer and wine in the glasses.
It was the strangest party I have ever thrown. It was fun and stressful at the same time. You learn quickly in situations like this how comfortable people are with this process. Several of my religious friends were obviously caught off guard by the conversation of others. My aunts had to keep explaining things to my grandmother. The people that love you ask tough questions like Why are you going through this? Why not just adopt? Good questions, but it’s hard to explain to others that the heart (or uterus) wants what it wants.
By the end of the party, a final candidate was decided. Once my gynecologist gave me the go ahead to place my order based on my ovulation schedule, I used my credit card to place my order. For a thimble full of sperm and special frozen shipping, plan on spending at least $500-700 per order. If you have to cancel last minute because your body does not cooperate, plan on a hefty frozen storage fee that can cost several hundred dollars a month. (There is no return policy for “sperm”.)
I honestly thought that I was going to get pregnant without fertility drugs. For my first insemination, I refused them. After that failure, the seed of doubt was planted and I agreed to take the drugs. Every time an insemination fails, my doctor decided to double my amount of drugs.
Like most people, I have a touch of crazy. I have my things that get under my skin and seem more important to me that anyone else. For instance, I like my house tidy. Things should be in their place. I can’t go to bed with dishes in the sink or clothes still in the dryer. When I leave for work, my bed must be made and clothes should never be on the floor. If an event is coming up, I like to plan to the hilt. I have packing lists, to-do lists and lists of lists to make in the near future.
I find that when to consume things that can affect your emotional state, that it turns that crazy dial of yours up a notch. Say your crazy dial is sitting on two on a good day. After a round of hormone-affecting fertility drugs, that dial can easily skip to five or six. As the inseminations increase, your dial reaches new territory. You need things now in your life to gauge this level of crazy and help you put it into check so that you don’t offend love ones or lose your job.
So my crazy seemed to travel down my veins that resided in my need for organization. I could tell you with every insemination about my body temperature, my blood tests, where I was in my ovulation and my predictions for the next insemination procedure. I was charting my data like a statistician.
One of the most frustrating parts of this process was predicting ovulation. The female body releases one or more eggs from one of her ovaries after her luteinizing hormone surge. (Just Google it.) After that surge, ovulation happens within 36 hours afterwards. If you are couple trying to get pregnant, you wait for the 36 hours to pass and then have lots of sex for the next 24 hours to get pregnant.
When you are single female, taking ovulation tests and having blood drawn every day, you think a bit differently. You monitor the data and compare it to past months. You look at your work calendar and try to determine which meetings will suddenly need to be rescheduled. Put the acupuncturist and sperm bank on standby. Once your doctor schedules your insemination, you immediately call the sperm bank and have your frozen choice overnighted to the doctor’s office. You schedule an acupuncture appointment for after the insemination to help in the process. You tell your closest friends who think positive thoughts during your procedure. You tell work that you need this afternoon off for another doctor’s appointment.
For a planner, it’s a tense, uncontrollable time. During the first wave of inseminations, it was stressful as I found myself forgetting things that I wanted to do during this time. By the end of my attempts, I was a seasoned pro at logistics. I could schedule everything on the drive to work in the morning and still drink my coffee.
It’s easy to look back at yourself and laugh at the funny thing that you did during insemination number two or whatever. I said some crazy things and had some crazy thoughts. At times, I was trying to plan my pregnancy around my busy time at work. “Sorry doctor, I can’t do this month because that means that I would be due in August and that’s my good for my employer”. “Let’s skip December, it’s the holidays and I want to enjoy myself a bit.”
One of my favorite ovulation stories was during my first attempts. I was still with doctor number one who relied on ovulation tests to help determine my insemination appointment. Later, specialists don’t use these tests instead they rely on daily blood tests for more accurate information.
I told my doctor that I was having trouble deciphering the information from the tests. She advised me to bring the tests to her office so that she could assist me. Now, keep in mind that my crazy dial is at least up to five or six at this point. Typically, you take one ovulation test a day, first thing in the morning while putting a stick in your first pee of the day. Each day, you see the results of the tests build as the hormone is building up in your body. Often, I would see it build and build with little to no change. So, I decided to go to the dollar store and buy LOTS of ovulation tests.
I drank lots and lots of fluids one day and decided to take an ovulation test every HOUR to see if I can see a difference in the results. Maybe the tests were bad. Maybe I was doing it wrong. Maybe I just needed to take one more test. I remember my flash of brilliance sitting in my bathroom where I developed a shorthand code to label the stick with the time and date using a red magic marker. I collected these tests in quart-sized bags to be studied and laid out in order. When my doctor asked me to bring my test to the next appointment, my mind said, put the entire bag of tests in your purse.
I remember my doctor’s face while standing in the hallway of her practice with a quart-sized bag full of twenty plus used ovulation tests. She didn’t say anything at first but then suggested that I go immediately to her office. Here is where I learned about the setting on my crazy gauge and how ovulation tests say once a day for a reason.
When you walk into the doors of fertility, prepare yourself for crazy. Even the most sane and rational people find themselves diving off the deep end during this process. Give space to your crazy. Honor your crazy. Laugh at your crazy. Just remember to come back from your crazy when you are done.