I have a cherished photo of me holding my dear friend Jane’s 15-month-old son on my lap in our apartment in Brooklyn, circa 2006. Jane was the first of my closest friends to have a baby, and her son (who is now 13 years old, OMG!) was doted on by us all. His curly mop of brown hair and darling grin stand out in the photo, and you can tell that I am totally devouring his cuteness.
And yet, underneath it all, I know there was a pain I was hiding. A pain that was eating me up inside.
You see, Jane and I had both started trying to get pregnant at the same time, starting around 18 months before the photo was taken. Each month, we checked in with each other, sharing the news of our latest pregnancy test results. For the first three months, we both got to share our depressing BFNs (“Big Fat Negatives”).
On the fourth month, Jane had a Big Fat Positive. I was over the moon for her, and although I was naturally a little disappointed I wasn’t pregnant yet, I expected it would happen soon.
I was wrong. As Jane’s belly grew and she shared with me all the nitty gritty details of morning sickness, sonograms, swollen feet, and everything else, I was trudging through what ended up being 18 months of trying – and failing – to conceive.
Jane, of course, listened to my disappointments – and as the months dragged on – my fears about where this was all heading. I could tell she was careful not to dwell too much on her own excitement about her pregnancy and upcoming birth. But we were extremely close friends and neither she nor I would have wanted not to share in these special moments together.
Jane was not my only friend who became pregnant during that time. My husband’s best friend and his wife decided to start trying a few months after we did. When it didn’t happen right away for them, I was secretly happy, hoping they might share in our struggle too. But then, of course, they got happily pregnant. We shared their joy too, but we also felt disheartened with our own struggle.
Other friends seemed to get pregnant as if by magic – after as much as brushing up against their husbands.
Finally, after 18 months of trying – during the same month that picture of me holding Jane’s son was taken – my husband and I went to a reproductive endocrinologist to find out what the heck was going on.
A million tests were done on me. My blood was drawn at two different parts of my menstrual cycle. I got a pelvic sonogram and an hysterosalpinogram (otherwise known as an HSG – a fun one, where liquid dye is shot through your fallopian tubes and an x-ray is taken). We even did a “postcoital test,” where a sample is taken from your vagina after sex, and examined under a microscope. Absolutely thrilling.
I was kind of shocked that everything came back normal for me (I think many women blame themselves initially when faced with infertility). I was even more shocked when we got the news that my husband had low sperm count – so low, in fact, that the doctor told us IVF might be our only option for a viable conception.
So that’s where I was when that photo was taken – happily grinning because Jane’s son was so delicious – and yet totally shattered as I digested the news that my quest for a child of my own was suddenly becoming much more complicated and stressful than I ever expected it to be.
My story has a good ending. Once we’d found out the news about my husband’s sperm count, we immediately took steps to increase sperm production, and lo and behold, that very month we conceived our first son.
It was a freaking miracle. We still don’t know exactly what worked, especially considering we were told my husband’s sperm count was abysmally low. Five years later we conceived our second son on the very first try, so maybe my husband was just experiencing a “sperm-making glitch” of some kind for those 18 months?
I don’t know the answer to that. But I do know how very lucky we were, and I count my blessings every day. I also know that not everyone’s story of infertility gets resolved as painlessly as ours was, and my heart breaks for any couple who is still in the throes of dealing with an infertility diagnosis of any kind.
I will never forget the torment and fear I felt during that time, especially as I watched my friends so effortlessly get pregnant and birth their beautiful children. I am not generally a jealous kind of person. But I was – very much – then. It was a kind of jealously that bordered on rage, an emotion that I didn’t know I was capable of.
But infertility can make you feel that desperate, that completely devastated and broken up inside. If you are feeling that way, you are not alone. You are allowed to feel that way, and there is no shame in that. And no matter what your future plans for a family look like – even if they are very different than you imagined them to be – you are stronger than you know, and you are going to be okay.