Most people’s story of infertility begins when they can’t get pregnant.
Mine started because I could.
In 2004 my bank accounts were empty, my credit cards maxed out, and I hadn’t yet found a job for the next school year. Suddenly the advertisements I heard on the radio for egg donors were tempting. I figured I might be an in-demand candidate, with my solid SAT scores, blond hair and blue eyes, and healthy, longevity producing genes. After a full year of screening—interviews, blood tests, endless questionnaires, genetic tests, ultrasounds, pap smears, psych evals, photographs—I became egg donor #254.
It didn’t take me long to realize why egg donors are compensated so well. Retrieving female gametes is not the picnic enjoyed by our male counterparts. It’s a carefully orchestrated month-long process of painful injections, almost daily monitoring appointments at the crack of dawn, blood withdrawals, and invasive ultrasounds. All of that coupled with drug side effects that push you to the brink of sanity and capped off with a semi-surgical procedure to harvest the precious eggs.
By my third and final donation, I was no longer motivated by the check I would receive at the end of the process. I had a newfound respect for the women standing in line with me, freezing, at 6:30 am every morning outside that fertility clinic. I had always taken my fertility for granted. I am one of six kids, my mom one of seven, my dad one of six. I have 23 first cousins. Now I was in a waiting room surrounded by women who were draining their 401k’s and bankrupting themselves for just one shot at getting pregnant. Meanwhile, their fertility doctor looked at my ovaries and remarked, “You better never have unprotected intercourse. You’re extremely fertile.”
Cue Alanis Morissette’s famous 90s ballad, “Ironic.”
Four years later Prince Charming fiiiinally made his appearance and I was ready to get this baby-making show on the road. After all, I was 31 years old and I needed to have all two babies in my plan produced before I hit 35, also known as Advanced Maternal Age. Months went by. Not pregnant. Not pregnant. Not pregnant. What in the world was wrong? I was “extremely fertile!?” So I memorized Toni Weschler’s Taking Charge of Your Fertility. This is THE bible on fertility. I ordered ovulation and pregnancy tests in bulk from Amazon. I—er–we did EVERYTHING right. How could this be happening to me?
So there I was, back in the same waiting room. At the same fertility clinic. I had become one of the women with the desperate eyes and hollow faces. The tables had turned.
About half of all couples that experience infertility never receive a clear answer as to where the problem lies. My husband and I were fortunate to discover quickly exactly what our problem was. The only way to overcome it was to repeat the procedures I had gone through as an egg donor!
I was thankful to feel like an old pro back in the saddle, or at least stirrups, in the familiar rooms of the fertility clinic. Same doctors, same nurses, same Siemens ultrasound machine. (I always laughed at that brand name. Oh, the irony!) The shocking part for me was the emotional onslaught that hit me like a tsunami, even before my first injection of insanity-inducing hormones.
Until I came face-to-face with infertility, I saw adoption as a tidy solution for couples who couldn’t have kids. Waiting for a child was the hardest part, and then you’d have your nice little family.
Not so simple.
Realizing that you might never have your OWN child–your own child that shares your genes and your husband’s genes, that looks like you and sounds like you, and maybe has your husband’s cowlick and your musical ability, and your father’s curly hair and your mother’s sense of humor—this realization shakes you to the core. You feel robbed. Robbed of something that everyone else seems to have effortlessly. You feel like a failure. Your body failed you. Your partner failed you. God failed you.
It was my anger at God that made me force myself into a therapist’s office. Another irony in my story, since I was a full-time counselor myself. My brain and my heart couldn’t process how I went from giving a piece of myself–3 times– so that another woman could bear a child to being one of those desperate childless women. How could God possibly be so cruel? I needed a space to grieve the loss that is infertility.
I now try to look at my experience with infertility as a gift. If it weren’t for four failed IVF attempts, I would not have chanced transferring two embryos in my 5th round. I would not have seen TWO tiny blips blinking on the ultrasound machine. Giving birth to and raising twins allowed me entry into a fellowship of moms bonded by the unique joys and challenges of raising 2 or 3 (or more!) babies born together. I don’t often feel alone in motherhood because I have this twin mom network.
One final twist of fate made the irony in my infertility story come full circle. The twins were 2.5 and I was a frazzled ball of nerves after just moving to a new city four weeks earlier. And somehow I was…late. Despite the odds being greater that BOTH my husband and I would be randomly hit by lightning, I had gotten pregnant. I didn’t quite believe it until the doctor handed me a hefty 9-pound baby boy 8 months later.
As I try to keep track of 3 littles each going a different direction during open play at the gymnastics center, I can’t help but marvel at the completely unexpected, strangely twisted road I traveled on my way to mommy-hood.