I’ve been thinking a lot this week about the “what ifs” in my life. I felt inspired to write about the What Ifs in honor of National Infertility Awareness Week April 24-May 1. The idea of hundreds of bloggers sharing their most intimate thoughts and feeling s regarding their own personal “what ifs” makes me a little weepy. I was a newspaper reporter. I know the power of the printed word. And, so in the spirit of unity within this beautiful community of women (and men) who share publically their own personal journeys, I am writing (or rambling, as the case may be) about the “what if” that scares me the most. What if it never works?
The Reader’s Digest version of this past week is this – On Sunday, six days after a final stab at IVF success via a frozen embryo transfer, I took a home pregnancy test and it was negative and I found myself angry that I’d actually gotten my hopes up high enough to experience another devastating let down. On Monday, I talked for a couple of hours to one of my best friends, who had her own harrowing journey through secondary infertility.
“What now?” she asked, because she knows that I’ve always got a plan (more tests or another round of IVF).
“I don’t know,” I said. “I honestly don’t know.”
I felt like I was closing a book that had a very dissatisfying and unhappy ending. It read something like this – girl meets boy, girl laughs, girl loves, boy tells girl he has low sperm count, girl doesn’t care because she knows she can’t live without him and they get married. Boy and girl move to Italy. Girl decides it’s time to try to make a baby. Boy sees urologist. Urologist says natural conception is out of the question. Boy agrees to try one cycle of IVF. Planes, trains and automobiles take boy and girl over the ocean to American doctors. Round One is a gigantic failure. Time passes. Girl talks boy into one more try. Another trip, another heartbreaking failure. Boy and girl move back to the states and promptly find new doctor. IVF Round Three seems so hopeful, new protocol, new doctor and, miraculously, blastocysts. Round Three is a bust, except for a small glimmer of hope --three frozen embryos. Doc transfers two blasts, pats girl on shoulder and says, “you’ve done all you can do.” Girl takes home pregnancy test and gets a negative. Boy and girl are crushed. The end.
But, thankfully, that wasn’t exactly the end. On Tuesday, another test showed a faint positive. On Wednesday I heard the words I was pretty sure I would never hear – “Your pregnancy test was positive.” I got to say words I never thought I’d say, “honey, we’re pregnant.”
Though my heart soared with the news, there is always the worry that something will go wrong. But I keep telling myself that worry is wasteful. What will be, will be.
Yet, the what ifs drift through my mind. What if my number doesn’t double on my next test? What if I miscarry? What if we have to start all over? What if after all this, we’re still not parents?
It would be difficult to give anyone insight into what infertility does to you. It makes you a person that you sometimes don’t recognize. It turns your insides out and your outsides in. It befuddles you, it mocks you, it angers you, it saddens you. It is truly a never ending internal battle. And, unfortunately, for couples like us the only way to fight it is with high-tech treatment that costs so much that if you think about it for too long, it will turn your stomach. How much have we spent? Don’t speak it. Don’t even think it. It’s water under the bridge, there’s no way to go back. We can only go forward.
Infertility is heartbreak. Infertility is not merely a diagnosis; it’s an emotional wrecking ball. It’s a physical disease that metastasizes, spreading from your reproductive organs straight to your brain, your heart, your soul. Then, it starts to infect the people who love you the most – your family, your friends.
My mother wailed when I told her the good news on the phone. It was a messy, loud, old-lady cry. It came from somewhere so deep down inside, a place of so much hope and so much hurt, that it was beyond recognition. You see, along the way, my mother has felt this emotional wrecking ball’s damage, too. Infertility seeps beyond the confines of a marriage, into the lives of others and it affects everyone it comes in contact with. That’s why, when we got positive results this week, my boss took me into her arms and cried with me. Infertility is an equal opportunity offender.
Infertility is not what you see on TV. Infertility is not Jon and Kate Plus 8 or Octomom. Infertility doesn’t look like that in real life. Despite what sensational television programs might have Americans believe, real infertility is usually something experienced between a husband and a wife. In real life, infertility is millions of sad stories, millions of failures, and thousands of miracles. I say that because, according to RESOLVE, more than 7.3 million Americans are infertile and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, assisted reproductive technologies account for slightly more than 1 percent of total U.S. births. In 2006 about 35 percent of cycles in the U.S. in which women underwent IVF and embryo transfer with their own eggs resulted in the live birth of at least one infant. Those odds are pretty heartbreaking.
Yet here we are, pinning all our hopes and dreams on the chance that this time, the odds might have worked in our favor. The heartbreaks of the past will fall away when we bring home a happy healthy baby. Until then, the “what ifs” will always be there. But, I have hope that someday soon, I’ll be able to lay those awful “what ifs” down and begin to ask myself some new questions, like what if… this is the last time I ever have to think about what infertility is and I can start thinking about what it is not? It is not a baby growing inside of you. It is not a happy, healthy pregnancy; it is not a tiny infant in my arms… what if this is finally it?