There are a few things that I remember about my wedding day. There are the obvious ones, such as the dress, the cake, dancing with my husband, etc. But one that especially sticks out is a guest pulling me aside as we were leaving the church and asking me when exactly we were planning on having a family. My husband and I had been married all of five minutes.
What this relative did not know, was that I had polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). I knew that PCOS was one of the leading causes of infertility in women, and I did not know if I would be able to have children. Instead of giving my guest a long winded response about PCOS and the ethics of asking a woman when she was having babies, I just smiled and said, “We’ll see. Let’s be married for a bit first.”
Around our second anniversary, we began to seriously consider expanding our family. My husband very much wanted to try for a biological child. I wasn’t opposed to the idea, and we began to undergo fertility treatments. I told my reproductive endocrinologist to give me everything she could short of IVF.
Metformin. Progesterone suppositories. Letrizole. Ovidrel. PIO. HSGs. IUIs. I had it all. Every month, I tested on the day designated by my endocrinologist. A few times, I got a positive test, but the betas showed that the hCG numbers were too low and a viable pregnancy would not be possible.
The pain that we felt was impossible to describe. Every time we saw a positive test, we would get our hopes up and we began to allow ourselves to imagine what it would be like to have our dreams come true. Then, when we got the news that the betas just didn’t support a viable pregnancy, a little piece of us died as our world came tumbling down and our dreams shattered into irreparable pieces.
To top it all off, friends and family were finding out that they were pregnant as we were going through our struggles. The constant bump photos and updates were just too much for us to bear because they were a constant reminder of where we had hoped to be, and what we had lost. While I could hide or silence these announcements on social media, I could not hide from them or silence them in person or at family events.
Just before we were to celebrate our third anniversary, and one year after starting aggressive fertility treatments, we got another positive pregnancy test. I looked at it in dread and wondered how long this one would last before going the way all of the others had gone. I called the positive test into the doctor’s office, and the next day they brought me in for betas. My husband and I went to the blood draw together, and we both took the day off of work so when the inevitable bad news came we could at least be with each other.
The phone call came. It was not bad news. The betas were low, but viable. I was quickly told what medications to take to support the pregnancy, and asked to come in for my 48 hour appointment. I could tell by the tone of their voices that they believed that this was it. I began to believe them, and began to imagine that I would have one of those magazine worthy healthy, glowing, pregnancies that everyone seems to have. I didn’t have that. At seven weeks, I had bleeding that lead to the discovery of two subchorionic hematomas. I was placed on bed rest to help them heal, which they did. But a few weeks later, I became incredibly ill.
At eleven weeks, my illness was given a name: hyperemesis gravidarum (HG). It was terrible. I felt like I had food poisoning, and the flu, and seasickness all at once. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t drink. I lost weight. I was so sick that sores began to cover my mouth, throat, and tongue, making it impossible to talk. I was sick all the time and was placed on cancer-patient-strength anti-nausea medication, but even that wasn’t strong enough to touch the HG.
As my pregnancy progressed, I developed heart issues and anemia from malnutrition and stress. I had more hospital trips and stays than I am comfortable disclosing. The entire time, I was worried that either my baby or I would die.
HG took a toll on my marriage. It left me unable to work, and my husband not only became our sole provider, but also my full-time caretaker. It was a lot on him. Because HG does have a high rate of recurrence with future pregnancies, we agreed that we would be one and done, at least biologically.
When our son was finally born, happy and healthy, the nurses placed him on my chest. I asked them if this truly was my baby. Not out of disgust or disconnectedness, but because after so much trauma it didn’t register with me that my son was finally here, safe.
My son is less than six months old, and people ask me when he will have a sibling. I feel like I’ve just left the hospital and people are already rushing past one major milestone and on to the next, just like on my wedding day. Honestly, I am still adjusting to being a mom and sometimes balancing work, life, and home is a struggle. I’m not ready to go through fertility treatments. I’m not willing to risk having HG again. I just want to enjoy food, family, and life — all things that I missed out on while I was pregnant.
Unlike my wedding day, I don’t deflect when questions about the size of my family come up. I know that I don’t owe an explanation to anyone, but I give one anyway. Why? Because the pain of infertility is real. Even after having a baby, it’s still present. Pregnancy complications are real, terrifying, and financially draining. Fighting to stay pregnant is emotionally trying. The pain of loss, be it from miscarriage, stillbirth, the realization that the family you dreamed of will never exist, or any other form of loss is devastating and traumatic. The last thing anyone needs is input as to how big or small their family should be.
I am one and done, biologically at least, for some of these reasons. I am one and done because it is not medically safe for me to get pregnant again. I am one and done because I want to be fully present for my son. I want to celebrate his milestones, not stress about shots or medication. I want to enjoy what I worked so hard to have. I am one and done because HG nearly cost me everything. Most importantly, my husband and I are one and done because it is what is best for our family. In the long run, that is what should be the most important thing.