Not as I planned: my fertility journey
18th July 2018
My three siblings and I were all born on the exact day that our mom planned us to be born. My mom liked the idea of our births feeling like birthday presents to her and my dad, so our conceptions were planned just right and each of us was born within the week of our parents’ birthdays. I grew up mortified of getting pregnant, convinced that any little slip in planning would immediately lead to conception.
Just as carefully as I planned my birth control throughout my teens and twenties, I also meticulously planned my career. I worked hard and achieved goals I was proud of: an Ivy League MBA, job offers from employers that were the best in their industries, and constant promotions. I always assumed that when the time was right I’d plan pregnancy into my career, as if it were just another work stream that could be piled onto my busy schedule.
In my mid thirties, I was happily married and finally started to feel ready for a child, and my husband and I decided we were ready to ditch birth control. Around that same time, my dad became ill. And around that same time, I let the worst of thoughts plant a seed in my head: “I HAVE to get pregnant ASAP so that my dad can meet my baby.” The thought stuck. And grew. And flourished into full blown paranoia. The thought germinated, and my head soon felt like a full garden of negative thoughts. “We finally decided to try last month but why didn’t it work?” “Are we doing it wrong?” “What if there’s something wrong with me?”
Within months, our most intimate moments were ruined by thermometers, ovulation kits, fertility calculator apps, vitamins, supplements, and the recurring doubt of whether a certain position or movement had just ruined our chances of conceiving that cycle. After twelve months of trying, we started seeing a fertility doctor, who couldn’t find anything wrong with us and diagnosed us as a case of “unexplained infertility.” We started a journey of more supplements and now hormones, followed by several cycles of IUI. In parallel, my dad kept getting worse and worse, and finally passed away. And in parallel, I became more and more disillusioned with my up-to-that-point-really-successful career, because all of a sudden my work goals seemed less fulfilling in the context of my father’s passing and my inability to bear new life. For a while, life became a sad roller coaster of 28-day cycles, each ending with extremely low points of disappointment when we found out we’d failed at conceiving yet again.
Over the three years we struggled with infertility, I tried just about everything that’s ever been associated – scientifically or not – with boosting fertility: acupuncture, traditional chinese medicine, yoga, and new diets. I did ridiculous things, not the most extreme of which were banning the use of non-stick pans at home and asking my husband to stop having his occasional beer. Our failure to conceive consumed me.
Three years after we started to try, we gave IVF a shot. Our first cycle resulted in the extraction of about 25 eggs, none of which survived as embryos. Our second cycle resulted in the extraction of about 25 eggs, only one of which continued to grow as an embryo. And years later, that little embryo is still growing into the most wonderful little toddler we’ve ever met.
I learned so much about life – and death – during those difficult years when we struggled with infertility. Most shocking were three lessons. First, we – and in we I include the global medical community – still know so little about the female reproductive system. Second, one’s struggle to conceive can be such a taboo to talk about that it makes the experience an incredibly lonely one. I urge anyone going through infertility to look for inner strength and calm to deal with all the confusion and ambiguity, and to reach out to loved ones for support. And third, so many more couples than I had ever imagined have struggled with conceiving. We need to open more channels of communication to connect and learn from each other’s experiences.