In reading this post by Holly today, and in hearing yet another wave of pregnancy announcements all over the blogosphere over the past couple of weeks, I felt like it was finally time.
I’ve wanted to write about it. I started post after post, but it never felt like the right time; we were always waiting for one reason or another. Because of my blog audience, because we weren’t yet ready to let the world know, because once you write something on the internet it is THERE, son, THERE, and even if you delete it, you can’t take it back. But today…today is the day. The day I will begin the story of how we knew, and what we did, and what happens now.
For much of my life, I was ambivalent about the idea of being a parent. I didn’t know how to feel about the idea of being pregnant, of having babies, of becoming a parent, and luckily my partner didn’t know how he felt, either. About the time that we got engaged, however, my biological clock (for lack of a better term, and I still hate that phrase, but I can’t explain it any better) suddenly flipped from “ambivalence” to “BABIES NOW PLEASE.”
It scared the absolute ever-loving shit out of me.
I had no idea what to do with all of these new feelings that I was having, the sense that my brain was suddenly being controlled by my ovaries. Perhaps it was a bit like what it’s like to be a male, since everyone says that men think with their gonads instead of their brains. (Which, of course, is total BS.) But still – it was a primal urge, an overwhelming sense that I NEEDED TO GET PREGNANT RIGHT NOW NOW NOW and I hated it. I hated feeling like I was suddenly totally not in control of my own wishes, desires, hopes for the future. It was really disorienting, and I spent several months just trying to work it all out. Dan and I talked a lot about it, about whether we’d want to have kids, and how that might work, and when it might happen, and luckily we both ended up agreeing, being on the same page about it, our ideas and our wishes changing together.
There was this one time in the fall of 2007 when I was on a work trip in another state and I’d forgotten to bring my birth control pills with me. I had to call Kaiser to have them switch the prescription to a local pharmacy so I could start taking the pills on time after the off-week, because I was so afraid that pushing it back by three days would mean I’d end up six months’ pregnant at our wedding. I didn’t want that, and I felt relief when I was able to take that pill I’d taken 3 out of every 4 weeks for pretty much my entire adult life. I thought that maybe a part of me had forgotten the pills on purpose, that baby brain had taken over and would cause us to have an oops, which I so wasn’t ready for. It was scary shit, man. And yet, at the same time, every night when I took a pill, I was sad, because it meant that there wouldn’t be any babies for a while yet.
After a 14-month engagement, we got married in March of 2008. Just a few weeks after our wedding, Leah and Simon announced that they’d be having a wombat. I did the math and realized that if I’d gotten pregnant the week we got married, we’d be due around the same time, and so Leah’s pregnancy and Wombat’s birth and babyhood were really special to me. A huge part of me was super excited and happy for them, and a small, mean part of me was jealous. I was so, so jealous that they were getting to do that thing that I wanted so badly – growing a baby, making a person, becoming parents. We knew the timing wasn’t yet right for us to do the same, but we had a plan. We’d talked and talked about what the right timing might be – we knew we wanted a baby, we wanted to be parents, but we decided to wait until Dan was finished with school and, with luck, both of us would be employed soon thereafter, so we’d have the whole nine months of pregnancy to save money. I started hoarding my vacation time and sick time at work to help prepare for a paid maternity leave. Dan graduated in May of 2009, and he interned all summer at the Denver Art Museum, while looking for a full-time job. We’d also decided that, if possible, we’d move to California. We wanted to be near more family and near many of our friends, our support system being in place for when we became parents, because we knew that would make things easier on us.
In August of 2009, we decided that I’d stop taking birth control pills, and we’d see what happened. I wrote a bunch of blog entries someplace else about how excited we were and couldn’t wait until I could publish them in a more public forum. My period was about a week late that first cycle, and we got really excited about how it might have worked that very first time. And then, we knew it didn’t work.
Petra got sick a month later, and then she died right before Christmas. Still no pregnancy. Each cycle went by, and each time we got our hopes up, just a little, and each time I cried when it hadn’t worked. And it seemed as though everyone we knew got pregnant and had babies – my friend who taught classes at the gym, coworkers, random people I would see in the gym or in my office building. Couple after couple got pregnant the first or second cycle of trying. Everyone around us was fecund, but for us: bupkis.
After a nearly a calendar year and 14 cycles, we knew it was time to get some answers. It hurt more every time another friend or another blogger or another person we knew of announced a pregnancy. Some friends of ours, who had been waiting until there was no possibility of a Christmas baby, got pregnant the first cycle they tried, when we were on cycle 13. They had an early miscarriage, and I was sad for them, but I wasn’t as sad as I felt I should have been, because IT WAS OUR TURN. The small, mean voice in my head said small, mean things, and there wasn’t anything I could do to stop it. We felt powerless; we weren’t moving to California, and we weren’t pregnant. For a whole year, nothing happened except the death of our beloved cat and we didn’t make our once-monthly pilgrimage to the pharmacy at Kaiser to pick up my birth control pills. I started a blog post about trying and failing to get pregnant at least once a month, which became more like once a week, and each time I deleted them, because I didn’t want people we knew to get their hopes up. I felt bad, I felt trapped, I felt stymied, I felt stuck, but I just couldn’t bring myself to be public about something that felt so small and yet so huge.
Finally, we knew that we had to figure out what was going on. Once we made the decision to have some testing done, I started to feel a little better about the situation, because at least we were doing SOMETHING, right? We met with a reproductive endocrinologist who was surprised at how well-researched, how well-informed we were about the issues, about the possibilities, and he suggested some tests that would let us know what might be preventing us from getting pregnant.
We know why we are not getting pregnant.
About a week after we got the test results back, and we began to process the news (crying. mourning. resigned.) the possibility of moving to California came up again, and we decided that something needed to change. So all of that vacation and sick time saved up, rather than being a paid maternity leave, is what is supporting us until we’re employed and back in the world.
I’m not going to write about why we are not getting pregnant. It doesn’t really matter why we are not getting pregnant. What really matters is that our best shot at having a baby together is to undergo IVF. The good news is that we are very good candidates for it. The bad news is that IVF isn’t at all covered by the insurance we’re COBRA-ing until one of us gets a full-time job here in California, and isn’t covered by much insurance at all. It will probably cost us more than ten thousand dollars for a shot (a good shot, but still just a shot) at pregnancy, something that, historically, almost everyone has gotten for free. It still blows my mind, after all of my research and hearing so many stories, both good and bad, that people manage to get pregnant at all, let alone get pregnant accidentally, because there are SO MANY THINGS that have to go exactly right just to get to the point of a developing pregnancy. So when someone tweets about oh, have I had a period recently? or blogs about oops baby number three, it’s all I can do to restrain myself from punching the computer.
I’ve been telling myself for this past year-plus that pregnancy is not a zero-sum game. It doesn’t affect our fertility one iota whether and how someone else manages to grow a person. But it feels personal. It feels like the entire world is able to do something we are not, that everybody else has something that we can’t have (or at least, it is going to cost us a lot of money, and months of hormone treatments, and the loss of the idea of how a pregnancy should happen). Some of the people that I did tell when we first started trying, that it still hadn’t happened, have been saying to me that everything “happens for a reason.” You know what? It doesn’t. There’s no reason that one couple has 19 children and thousands of others can’t have any. There’s no reason that people lose wanted babies at any stage of gestation or age. To hear platitudes like that DON’T HELP. It doesn’t help us get pregnant, that’s for damn sure, and mostly it makes me angry because when someone says that it means they aren’t listening to what I am saying. I don’t believe in “happens for a reason” or “meant to be.” I believe in making things happen, or figuring out why they are not happening, and changing those things if possible. Sometimes it just isn’t possible, and “meant to be” doesn’t help, either.
So here’s the favor I’m going to ask of you, internet. I’m going to welcome comments of all sorts when I write about infertility, and, I assume, as eventually I’m going to write about the experience of undergoing IVF. But if you could just hold off on the platitudes, I’d really appreciate it. We want to be parents. I want to be pregnant. We want to have kids. It is probably going to be a lot more expensive and a lot more difficult for us to get to that point than it is for most people, and we’ll likely never end up pregnant without significant medical intervention. No, we’re not discussing adoption, at least not for the time being, because, believe it or not, that’s even more expensive than IVF. For now, we’re going to focus on being healthy, eating right, exercising, finding jobs, and saving money, because someday, someday that blanket I’m knitting or the drawing Dan is working on will be for our own kid. It may not happen on the schedule we’d originally planned, but you know what? You can’t always plan life that way.