Infertility Awareness Week – Opening up about my year during the pandemic.

Content Warning: grief, infertility, miscarriage. This is a long read, but I have to get it off my chest.

In the summer of 2018, I was hopeful.

My friend and fellow author Dacia M. Arnold invited me to share a piece on her blog. Read at your own risk, I was far too happy when I wrote it. I had just gotten home from my first appointment at the Mass General Fertility Clinic in Boston and was high on hope and excitement.

The winter of 2018 brought my plans to a staggering halt, as my health deteriorated and complications from asthma and back-to-back lung and sinus infections kept me on medications I couldn’t take while pregnant. Then, in early 2019, I had surgery to open the airways in my nose and stop the infections.

Fine, then—I could just start trying again in the summer, only a year late.

The asthma attacks continued though, and on March 11, 2020 they started me on a new regiment for my asthma. Thankfully, it worked, but two days later the country went into a sort of lock down because of the COVID-19 pandemic. No one realized over a year later, we would still be frustrated, trapped, scared. The vaccine has given us all hope, and now in April 2021, we’re all eagerly looking to the summer and hoping things can start to return to some semblance of normal.

But things may never be normal for me again.

When I realized my plans to return to the clinic that spring for my first IUI (intrauterine insemination) would no longer be possible, I remember feeling distraught. I remember thinking about how this was the third year in a row something had happened to stop me from starting my journey. I remember feeling the ticking of my own internal clock and thinking it would never happen.

IUI : Intrauterine Insemination

noun

intrauterine insemination, a type of fertility treatment that involves placing sperm inside a woman’s uterus close to the fallopian tubes in order to increase the chances of conceiving

Fortunately for me, I am far too stubborn for all that. I rallied and determined to try another way. ICI (intracervical insemination) was an option I had read about, but always felt too scared to try. Faced with the unknown timeline of the pandemic, I decided I had to give it a try. So, I did.

ICI : Intracervical Insemination

noun

the introduction of semen into the oviduct or uterus by some means other than sexual intercourse.

I’ll spare you the gritty details, but I tried. And tried. And tried. I did everything right; and still, nothing. Every time I tried, the period that followed (sorry, not sorry—this is part of the process) was just awful: debilitating cramps when I never got them before, nausea, migraines, heavier-than-ever bleeding. They lasted twice as long as normal and I would spend a few weeks devastated that yet again, I must have done something wrong.

Then, finally, one year after I started trying, I got a positive test. I had been too excited and tested earlier than I should have—but there it was, the double pink line staring back at me. I cried for an hour. I texted my closest friends to let them know I finally had good news. It was a Thursday, so I had the entire weekend to bask in my happiness, then I would call my doctor and tell her the good news.

Even now, as I type this, I’m smiling, remembering that feeling.

Yes, I even bought a crib and a blankie friend when I first stared trying.

I spent the next few days excitedly researching. When would my baby be due? (The same week as my birthday!) What would their zodiac sign be? (The same as mine!) What middle names went well with the first names I had picked out?

A dear friend of mine had come over for brunch, and we sat together and looked at my names. He informed me that to pick a good middle name; you had to say in anger. That’s how you get a strong middle name. We laughed and spend a half hour scolding various names until we settled on two that sounded just perfect for when my toddler was inevitably caught drawing on the walls, or trying to cut their own hair.

Then, Monday morning rolled around, and I tested again with the digital test that came in my box of three. The “No” on the screen had me confused until another friend explained to me that the digital tests weren’t sensitive enough to detect early pregnancy.

PHEW.

Off to the pharmacy I went to snap up another pack of pregnancy tests. Except, the next day, there was only 1 little pink line. And the day after that, another lonely pink line. Had I imagined the positive test? I kept looking back at the picture I had taken. It was definitely positive.

Then, about a week after my positive test, my period came—and it was awful. I laid curled up in bed, in pain and sick and unable to stop crying.

I felt so stupid after that, having to tell the small group of people I’d shared my good news with the horrible truth: I had lost it.

Chemical Pregnancy

chemical pregnancy, also known as a biochemical pregnancy, is a very early miscarriage that occurs before the fifth week of gestation, around the same time as an expected menstrual period.

It soon became very clear to me that the past times I had tried had all resulted in the same excruciating after math—the only difference was that I had not tested early those other times. I had tested late, hoping for clearer results. My period had always followed the same day, leading to disappointment—but not devastation.

People will tell you that a chemical pregnancy isn’t a real miscarriage. They’ll tell you it’s basically as if you were never pregnant at all. For many people, that may be true. For people who aren’t actively trying, it’s generally just an unusually bad period. When you are actively trying, when you are testing religiously and hoping for good news… when you get that good news after a year of disappointment, and it’s ripped away from you, I promise you it is very much a real miscarriage.

A doctor’s appointment soon after confirmed the miscarriage, and a discussion with my fertility specialist after that confirmed what I knew in my heart, but dreaded: I had miscarried at least two times before. Every attempt I had made had ended in an early miscarriage or no fertilization at all.

“This is good news,” she said cheerfully to me as I held back tears. “This means you can conceive.”

Sure, I thought. But I can’t keep it alive.

It’s not an uncommon thought. Guilt, shame, the feeling of being at fault for something you couldn’t control, but it doesn’t feel that way. Would it have been different if I was younger? Thinner? If I didn’t take that Advil for my headache? Would it have been different if I had skipped my inhaler, or not taken the antihistamine for my allergies? Would it have been different if I had eaten different food, or not gone for that hike?

The reality is no: it wouldn’t have been different. Deep down, the rational part of me knows that—but it does little to comfort me. Each failure has pushed me deeper and deeper into this dark place, this sadness I can’t shake off but keep carefully hidden. The “what if’s” haunt me. I find myself bursting into tears in the middle of the afternoon with no obvious trigger. I want to keep myself busy to distract myself from this terrible loneliness I feel, but I can’t bring myself to get up and do any of the things I used to love.

It sucks.

What’s worse, is that my last doctor’s appointment brought on only more bad news… and even now, as I struggle to cope with it all, I can feel the stubborn part of me screaming this can’t be it.

IVF (In Vitro Fertilization) is possibly the only hope I have after learning what I did at last week’s appointment, and that scares me. If it’s truly my only choice, it might mean the end of the road for me. Insurance doesn’t cover IVF for unmarried queer women, unless I spend another year paying out-of-pocket for IUI. It’s tens of thousands of dollars that insurance doesn’t cover, which I simply don’t have. Not only that, but I’m not sure I have it in me to spend another year grieving failure after failure.

IVF : In Vitro Fertilization

noun

the process of fertilization by extracting eggs, retrieving a sperm sample, and then manually combining an egg and sperm in a laboratory dish. The embryo(s) is then transferred to the uterus.

I’m trying not to lose hope. I have to keep trying. I can’t just give up. I don’t know where I’ll go from here—I have no answers. I have no happy ending to this story, but I felt the need to share it, to get this weight off my chest. Maybe it will make me feel better to share it—I don’t know. Maybe knowing it’s Infertility Awareness Week has just made me feel like I ought to share it.

Maybe in the coming weeks, I’ll find that silver lining. I’m searching for it every day. I’m reading everything I can, scouring every line of my insurance policy, making phone calls, and anxiously anticipating my next appointment at the clinic where we will discuss what comes next. It’s an agonizing wait.

I don’t know what I expect from sharing my story. I don’t think I expect anything but perhaps the catharsis of releasing it into the world. Maybe no one will read it. Maybe people will start to and get bored. Maybe people will read it. For those of you who stuck with my story, thank you. I’m not asking for pity or looking for people to tell me how sorry they are. I’m not looking for people to tell me the “bright side” or tell me how I’m better off without kids. I’m not asking for people to jokingly tell me they’ll give me their kid. I’m especially not looking for people to brush off my pain and tell me “it’ll happen eventually” or “everything happens for a reason.”

If it does happen, it won’t just be an eventuality. If it does happen, it will be because I fought for it. It will be because I struggled through my grief and made it happen.

Who knows where this road leads for me. I wish I had some deep, meaningful words of wisdom to give, but to anyone suffering as I am suffering, all I can offer is solidarity.

“They say that the best blaze burns brightest, when circumstances are at their worst.”

diana wynne jones, “Howl’s Moving Castle”

One thought on “Infertility Awareness Week – Opening up about my year during the pandemic.

  1. Not being able to get pregnant has a lot to do with stress. Many women adopt only to find after months of stress free bliss they are pregnant. I understand you are not to the more conventional method.
    When I was told I could never get pregnant again, I stopped caring and ended up pregnant. I am not saying this is a resolve but let you know there is still hope.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: