So much of who any of us are is determined by the experiences we have had in our lives. At the age of thirty, a significant portion of my life is shaped by my role as a mother, and by the experiences that have led me to it. Since I started this blog focused on these things, I suppose that I should share the stories leading up to now. It won’t all come in one post. It may not all come in any defined time frame. Once it is done, I will combine it in my “About” section.
Sean and I married when we were both twenty-two. I know this sounds young (funny to think of now–growing up, I always thought my mother had been somewhat of an “old maid” having married at 22), but by then we had been dating for five years. I had already graduated from college, but he still had a way to go before he was finished. We both worked full-time.
Sean didn’t want to discuss having kids until he had finished his degree. I was a little more anxious to enter into parenthood, but thought I wanted at least a year of adjusting to marriage. I won’t get into the specifics of a personal experience but, a few months into our marriage, Sean told me that he felt strongly that we should start trying to have a child. A couple of weeks later, my niece L~ was born. I remember holding her in the hospital, thinking I would be giving her a new cousin before the next year had ended.
When we first decided to start our family, we were under the (seemingly) reasonable impression that it would happen quickly. My mother became pregnant six times–only once was intentional (side note: it is a bit creepy when your parents can tell you exactly what methods of birth control failed in order for you–and your siblings–to exist). My sister would be pregnant within weeks of deciding to have another child. And Sean’s family? Well, they had a long-standing tradition of shotgun weddings. All in all, we were born into families that are so fertile they could grow tomatoes if you sprinkled seeds on their heads.
Each passing month became more difficult for me. Due to an undiagnosed thyroid problem, I was having long cycles (I had never noticed this before), which led me to get my hopes up on a monthly basis. Each time my period came, it was devastating. Since I had been tracking everything, I realized that something wasn’t right. I suspected that we had a problem. I was sure that my body was causing it. About seven months after we started trying, I discussed my concerns with my family doctor. She ordered a semen analysis for Sean, just to rule out any problems there.
When I was finally able to get someone at my (incompetent) doctor’s office to give me the results of the analysis, I was told that everything looked fine. Not good enough. I wanted the specifics. They read the results to me. I had already done some research, so I knew that something didn’t sound right. I was finally able to get the hospital’s fertility lab to fax me the results, and someone was willing to go over them with me on the phone. I wasn’t prepared for what I was told.
“I’m sorry,” she said, “but you will never conceive on your own. It just isn’t possible with these kinds of results.”
You see, my doctor’s office had only bothered to look at the sperm count. That looked good so, as far as they were concerned, everything was hunky dorey. The problem was way down at the bottom of the page (almost eight years later, I can still *see* it there). Elevated antibodies. Low motility. Yep, the little guys were there, but they were under attack and not able to go anywhere. Thankfully, I was the only person in my office that day. I took a loooong lunch, went to the family history library where my mom volunteered, and tried to cope. The news was devastating, but in some ways I was relieved. At least I knew what was wrong. At least I could stop trying. At least, every month, I KNEW that nothing would happen.
We decided to see a reproductive endocrinologist (RE), who put us through more tests. The standard poking, prodding, and blood-letting for me. Other than my now-diagnosed thyroid problem, I seemed to be fine. Oddly, this was harder for me than if I were the one with the problem. Our RE, a man with a handle-bar mustache and a Marxist view of religion, insisted to me that he could give me the baby that my God wouldn’t (this was after I declined the idea of using a donor). The final analysis was that our only option was invitro fertilization (IVF). And even then, standard IVF wouldn’t be enough. We would have to do it with ICSI, an extremely high-tech procedure where the sperm is sucked into an impossibly tiny needle, then injected into the egg. From what I read, any lab that can do this procedure is technically capable of cloning a human being.
And so began almost four years of waiting and debating. Should we gamble our money (and our fragile hopes) on the IVF procedure? Could I get over my dreams of having that “mini me” baby (this was never an issue for Sean, he was ready to adopt before we ever had a diagnosis)? We went back and forth for the next couple of years, at times struggling through the very real impact that it had on the strength of our marriage.