As promised, I now present to you the true tale of our fertility journey. But first, a warning: If you think I share too much in other posts, you will definitely not enjoy this one. So stop reading. Now. Go back to the wedding blogs. So why am I writing this? Until talking about fertility struggles is as taboo as discussing the weather, it’s up to those who feel comfortable sharing the details of their process to provide some comfort to others who are suffering silently. So here’s what surprised me the most about trying:
1. How Going Off the Pill Feels Like Being Pregnant
Around the time I suspected I was ovulating (that word no longer feels like TMI because I’ve now talked about it with so many different people so many times) on our first birth control-free cycle, I suddenly developed a super sense of smell. Having worked at WhatToExpect.com, I knew that was an early symptom of being pregnant. “We did it!” I thought. Breast tenderness, back pain, and major mood swings seemed to confirm my suspicion. Then I got my period and felt like a fool. It turns out that the first time you ovulate after going off hormonal birth control, your nose may be more sensitive. And those other signs? Also a result of your fluctuating hormones post-BC. This info was not readily available from trusted sources, so I made damn sure it would be for the future: http://www.whattoexpect.com/preconception/photo-gallery/7-surprising-symptoms-of-going-off-birth-control
2. How Trying to Get Pregnant Is Not Nearly As Much Fun As It Sounds
When I’d hear about couples for whom it was taking months to get knocked up, I’d think, “Oh, poor you. You have unprotected sex all the time.” But merely fornicating when you feel like it–or even when an ovulation calculator suggests it’s time–isn’t always enough to do the trick, especially when you’re 30, like we were. I started taking my temperature with what’s called a basal body thermometer (which is really just a digital thermometer that’s accurate to one-hundredth of a degree, depending on the brand) every morning at the exact same time. I also started using ovulation prediction kits, aka peeing on sticks most mornings. When my temperature dipped and I got a positive OPK, it was time to hit the sack–whether or not we were in the mood.
3. How Expensive It Is–Even Before the Heavy-Duty Fertility Treatments
The thermometer was only 10 bucks, but the digital ovulation kits? $50 a pop. And if you have long cycles, you could go through two or three at a time. The cheap stick versions which I eventually switched to served me just as well. My doctor also put me on a supplement called Pregnitude (I still cringe at this name), which supposedly bolsters the quality of your eggs. That was about $30 a month. Then there’s the Pre-Seed, the fertility-friendly lube a friend swore was the reason she got pregnant. Another $20 for a few months. Let’s not forget the cost of tampons or pads, which added up for me because I was getting my period every 21 – 24 days! And the extra doctor’s appointments to figure out what the hell was wrong with me weren’t 100% covered by my insurance. Also, digital pregnancy tests are about $15 a pair.
4. How Jealous I’d Be of EVERYONE and EVERYTHING That Could Get Pregnant
I found myself unconsciously giving the stink-eye to each stroller-pushing and belly-boasting woman I encountered in Manhattan. Eventually, I was casting aspersions at animals who strutted around with their babies in tow. Because when you don’t get pregnant as quickly as you want to, you envy those who have what you can’t. You also assume their wish came true merely by hoping it would. Though a few friends who got pregnant while we were trying did hit baby bingo right away, judging by the crow’s feet and gray hairs that made some moms on the street look at least ten years my senior, they had their own share of disappointments first.
5. How Tough It’d Be to Be Around Little Kids
On a particularly difficult, though beautiful, weekend, Paul and I went to Central Park to bask in the sunshine and forget about the trouble we were having starting a family. We were sitting on a bench when a bride, groom, flower girl, and photographer walked up to take some wedding pictures. The little attendant was impossibly adorable as she hammed it up for the camera in her formal white dress. “Do you want to move?” Paul asked me when he caught my gaze fixed on the preschooler. But I was fine because I love weddings. And then, the photographer called the child’s name. In a panic, I looked at Paul for confirmation I misheard; there was no way that cutie pie could bear the not-too-common name I’d want to give a daughter. “I think she said…” and Paul offered a similar-sounding, but more popular alternative. The shutterbug enunciated this time leaving no doubt that this girl’s name was indeed my favorite moniker. I bolted, tears streaming down my face. Not a rational reaction, to be sure, but it was a painful reminder of the thing I wanted so desperately and couldn’t seem to create.
6. How Tough It’d Be to Be Around Parents of Little Kids
I wrote this post about my best friend’s son’s first birthday party around the time I finally realized that getting pregnant wouldn’t be easy for us. What should’ve been a joyous occasion was actually pretty dark for me, so much so that a wise friend read between the lines on that blog and invited me to her online support group for other women struggling with fertility.
7. How Much Support I’d Need
I didn’t want anyone to know we were trying at first. It’s no one’s business! Yet keeping this to myself meant my frustrations had to stay between me and Paul, and that was a lot to unload onto him. His plucky attitude–because everything really does always work out for Paul–wasn’t as soothing as the stories from that online support group from women who tried for months and months, survived miscarriages, underwent fertility treatments, and experienced true pain–and had swollen bellies and smiling babies to show for it. Talking to friends also helped. While some truly were first-time’s-a-charm types, I learned about others who endured the same trials as the virtual friends I had made. I felt awful that they kept this secret and I wasn’t able to support them when they needed it most, but I was lucky that they were showering me with advice I desperately needed.
8. How Many Medical Tests You Undergo Before You Get Medical Intervention
I was one cycle away from going for an HSG, a procedure involving tubes going up your vag and dye being shot into you to see if there are any blockages that would prevent sperm from meeting egg. It’s virtually complication-free, but it’s not my idea of a good time. Before that point, I felt like I was at my doctor’s office once a week, getting blood drawn as often as Staten Island housewives get their nails done. Everything was normal each time, which was somehow more frustrating than something being wrong–at least if something were amiss we could take steps to fix it! But my weight of 145 pounds at 5’4 (at the very edge of the normal BMI range, but I have a small frame, so I should weigh less) was troublesome to my doctor, so she put me on a strict diet. No simple carbs, no processed foods, no joy. I checked out the Harvard Nurse’s Study and incorporated the resulting recommendations–no meat, no lowfat dairy–into my diet as well. Two-and-a-half-months’ later, I was 125 pounds and expecting.
9. How No Matter How Bad You Think You Have It, Someone’s Battle’s Even Tougher
From the day I went off birth control to the day I got my positive pregnancy test, just about seven months had passed–a blip compared to the years-long journey so many other couples endure. Plus, I was beyond fortunate never to have miscarried–or at least never to have noticed (yes, it’s THAT common). On the flip side, I had little sympathy for those who complained about not getting pregnant until their second or third cycle, even though that’s when I was on the brink of my own little breakdown, so I should’ve been more understanding. The point is, you never know just how punishing one’s experience is, so be kind.
So who wants to share their story? And if anyone is in the middle of this journey now and has questions, feel free to ask me. I want to be here for you and show you there is light (and a whole lot of nausea) at the end of this long, dark tunnel. Hope 2014 brings you your baby!
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UPDATE: I am overwhelmed by all the people who’ve reached out to me, through Facebook comments and private messages, about this post. I’m so glad we’re all talking about this. I also appreciate the feedback I’ve received from those still on their journeys, and I sincerely apologize to anyone who’s offended by this post or thinks sharing my experience in the way I presented it compromises the conversation about infertility. While taking seven months to conceive is normal and not diagnosed as infertility, it’s also just as normal to feel the emotions I shared in this blog–even when others are on much more arduous, costly journeys. Whether or not you think women in my shoes should feel that way doesn’t change the fact that we do. I sought out to validate those emotions, something I couldn’t find elsewhere online. I’m extremely lucky to have found a support group, many of whom truly have been to hell and back, who know how important it is to support every woman on this journey, regardless of how long and how much it takes her to get pregnant. Please remember that everyone’s doctors are different; mine believed we were doing everything correctly and wanted to make sure she wasn’t missing something. The women in my group agreed being proactive was a good strategy, and I trusted my doctor. I’m glad I did. I wish everyone still trying realizes this dream and has the support they need to get them there.