Sunday, January 10, 2010

Thoughts on Infertility

 WARNING-I talk about reproductive systems and menstruation in this post. If you're squeamish-click away. It's okay. I understand.

I'm not often lost for words. Normally, the words flow effortlessly when I've decided on a topic. I'm struggling this time, not so much because of the topic, but because of the delicacy surrounding it.

My name is Lisa and I am infertile. In 24 hours, after the scheduled hysterectomy, the last vestiges of biological fertility will be gone. In truth, they were gone years ago. I never wrote about it. It's time.

I married at 35, and we started trying to have children immediately. We knew we wanted children-plural-and we knew that time was not on our side.  I had always been regular as clockwork. My period would arrive on the 30th day, by 11am. Sometimes it went as long as 5pm that day, but I was predictable. 

And then I was late. 5 days, 6 days, 8 days...other weird things were happening as well. Women know their own bodies, and we know when something is odd or different. This was not a late period. This was something else. 12 days late, and all of a sudden, I started spotting. I'd never done that before. 3 days of spotting, bright red woosh of blood and the odd feeling went away. This happened 3 times that I recall. Another time, there was cramping, the sudden appearance of a round disc of red the size of a silver dollar and then nothing. Twice, I went to the doctor for a blood test. I registered an HCG of 4, but to be considered "pregnant" HCG had to be 5. Both times, as I was scheduled for a follow-up blood test, spotting, woosh and no more symptoms. Because I had never registered an HCG of 5, my family doctor never considered me pregnant. When I was referred to a gynecologist, he confirmed that I had very likely been pregnant, but that the egg had not implanted. His succinct response "women know."

And then the fun began. We started doing fertility tests-both of us-and I started taking hormone shots to boost the probability of success. Intercourse then became something driven by a positive ovulation indicator rather than passion. After a couple of months, we found out that medical issues existed and that we would not be able to have children naturally.

Infertility feels like a betrayal on the most basic, human level. Women are genetically created to have babies. It's what we do. When I couldn't I felt like a failure on a fundamental level. I remember thinking "I can't even have a baby...what good am I?" It's hard to explain the profound sense of hopelessness and loss unless you've also walked through the tunnel. I have never felt so inadequate and useless as when I received the news that I could not have children.

It's funny the things that all of a sudden come into sharp focus. As I dealt with the blow of infertility, I suddenly noticed all the women with multiple children. It was hard to fight the feelings of resentment for strangers who appeared to have no trouble conceiving children.

We chose to go the adoption route. It was not without its own heartbreak, when the first adoption fell through when the birth mom changed her mind and kept the baby. We have a wonderful little girl, and she is the child that we were meant to have. We have only one, but she is the miracle that we often didn't dare to hope for.

My reproductive system wasn't finished with me yet. About 3 years ago, my like-clockwork periods started going wonky.  Some months it was 45 days. Some months 20 days. At first, I passed it off to pending menopoause-I was warned that I would be in full-blown menopause in 3-5 years, and it was right on schedule for that prediction. Then the period didn't stop for a month. It included blood clots the size of marbles, periods that flooded through super tampons, maxi pads, underwear and jeans in an hour, only to do it again an hour later, and drained me of energy. Soaking my pyjamas daily became part of the morning ritual-I became quite efficient at it and soaked them in the shower. I slept on a bath mat when I grew tired of changing the sheets.  I was afraid to leave the house when the periods were at their heaviest. I could flood in an hour, and I was left feeling dizzy and almost passed out driving the car one day. This was more than menopause.

Turns out that although my body couldn't nurture a baby, it had no problem growing uterine fibroids. Mine was the approximate size of an orange and was causing all the bleeding and other problems. I named it Stan because anything that big growing inside me needed a name. I also had a cyst on an ovary that accounted for the pain. Once more my body had betrayed me.

Infertility can be very isolating. It's hard for other women to understand unless they have also blinked back tears at the arrival of a period that was late, but definite. It's hard to explain the envy and jealousy we try to ignore when friends and colleagues show off their bundles of joy. Just after our first adoption fell through, a colleague announced that she was having twins. She already had 2 boys, and although I was genuinely happy for her, I struggled with the unfairness. After all, she was going to have 4 babies and all I wanted was one. Being around babies is like ripping a bandage off an open wound continually. It's sorrow on a fundamental, personal level that's hard to fathom. When we give in to the resentment and envy, even for a minute, we feel like a horrible person.

 I couldn't talk abotu the miscarriages-for that is what they were, even if they were early on. I couldn't talk about it.. 

I have long since come to terms with things. I'm looking forward to the surgery tomorrow, as much as one can look forward to major surgery, because it will solve the health issues that have been plaguing me and ruining my quality of life for almost 3 years. The fact that I am losing my ability to have children is a non-issue. I mourned that loss years ago.

To anyone dealing with infertility, I send you a sympathetic hug and a nod of understanding. There are no words, even though people try to make you feel better.  People can say very dumb things when they don't know what to say and feel like they should say SOMETHING."I'm so sorry" and a hug covers things nicely. I'm so sorry that you are going through this.

With this post, I bid a not so fond farewell to Stan and turn the page on that chapter of my life. I look forward to the next chapter. Infertile I may be, a failure I am not.


Stephanie said...

Hi Lisa-
I am not even sure where to begin-so I'll start with "I'm sorry." As a therapist, it annoys me when people say, "I know how you feel" but this time, I am going to say it-I know how you feel-at least to a point.
I too am infertile and have begun the early stages of the change of life.
My husband and I are both identical twins with no explanation whatsoever as to why we couldn't conceive. We tried everything and I don't mean just IVF. I've been to every healer this side of Texas and while I received a healing emotionally we never conceived. My husband is the youngest of ten, me five. Our siblings all have children, including our twins.
I could write you a book in an effort to be sure you know I do feel for you and actually as I type this I realize I am. I am writing a memoir about my journey of love and loss and our exp. w/ infertility plays prominently. I would love for you to stop by my blog and check out one of the posts I wrote about this very issue.
Love to you-good ridence to Stan and know I am out here feelin' for you.
All the best-Stephanie

Janet Jarrell said...

I have a few friends and family members that have received this post. They share your experiences, I share the stories, I see the look on their faces, I can only imagine what it takes to face your truth.
I am coming to see the courage it takes to discuss infertility, and I think that telling the truth is so important for others to see.

Tammy said...

Just stumbled in here arbitrarily (well I searched "hysterectomy infertility") and wow... our stories are very much parallel, including the surgery date of our hysterectomies. I too, suffered a miscarriage, and we have adopted two children. I can't say that I'm as far down the road of acceptance of all this, but as you said, my main focus right now is getting healthy after many years suffering through the effects of endometriosis. Although I still have some grieving to do, I do know that as with all that I've been through, it is possible to walk through and be kinder, more caring on the other end for having endured. Bless you for writing this. I feel less alone this morning. And I hope that you have swift and easy healing.

Divawrites said...

I'm glad I was able to make you feel less alone Stephanie and Tammy. Women can feel so isolated and alone when we deal with infertility, and our significant other is dealing with their own grief. I think this is one of those things that, although people will try, if they haven't lived through it, they really can't understand or know how to support.
Hugs to both of you on your journey.