It was the call we didn’t want to make. One more month, we said, calculating time on our fingers.
When my husband Matt and I arrived at the fertility specialist’s office in January 2017, I sized up the other couples waiting around us, taking a long look at the woman alone on her cell phone.
I was escorted into an exam room for ultrasound where I stared at the monitor like television, even though nothing was on. After various tests we returned to meet with the doctor, a man past retirement age who pronounced the word “sperm” with gravitas.
“I would recommend IVF,” he told us.
Before we even made the appointment I told Matt I wasn’t sure I wanted to do IVF. It was one thing for us to simply get pregnant, for the decision to be made for us, but now we had to decide and invest in the mere chance of having a child. For months, I had been dreaming how I’d announce our pregnancy to our parents, but now we had something else to tell them, that a grandchild was very much not on the way. We cried. We avoided the subject. We contemplated what it meant to bring a child into a world that was growing increasingly warmer, with all of its dangers.We talked about adoption. Matt joked about getting into expensive aquariums. I went to a psychic to ask about my purpose — was this a sign I should be doing something else, living somewhere else, being someone else entirely?
It was all too overwhelming, so we hit pause. Maybe in six months, I thought, after Googling fertility supplements, consulting with yoga instructor friends, changing up my diet and trying acupuncture, we wouldn’t need IVF. Maybe this would be one of those cases of, “And then they stopped trying and magically conceived!” Time passed and nothing changed.
The second doctor we visited told us our issue was not as severe as we thought and there were several steps we could take first. I started taking oral hormones, which made me incredibly depressed. I found myself, usually a too-busy-for-my-own-good type A personality, despondent on the couch for entire weekends and crying in my car. I’d scroll Instagram and watch friend after friend announce her pregnancy, and force myself from under the weight of my blanket to type, “Omg congratulations!!!!”
We moved onto IUI (intrauterine insemination, or the turkey baster method). We were confident veering on cocky due to the precision of the procedure, which entailed my husband contributing his part early in the morning, followed by a special team separating out his best and brightest and preparing them in a syringe that would be inserted directly into my cervix later that day.
I made way too big of a deal over this, taking the full day off from work, heralding it as a sacred ceremony in which I WOULD CONCEIVE. Matt accompanied me and sat in the corner of the room playing Words with Friends while a nurse presented me the syringe labeled with our names like a bottle of wine. I was left in the room with an egg timer and instructions to rest for 10 minutes. Matt and I left the facility holding hands, my free hand resting on my stomach, feeling cramps but mentally willing them into a life.
The two weeks between ovulation and your period is an eternity where any small change in your body is misinterpreted as the real deal. In this waiting game, even without synthetic hormones, your emotions and worldview are all over the place.
And this time, our story wasn’t over.
I went alone to the second IUI in the middle of a busy workday. I kept my phone near the egg timer so I could catch up on email. As soon as I got home, I jumped on a conference call. I had become the jaded woman in that initial waiting room.
During this time, I connected with friends who were going through something similar. Like snowflakes, no two infertility stories are alike, and it was these women who saw deepest into my particular brand of sadness. Never since my pre-teens were so many people interested in whether I got my period. I was finally starting to feel hopeful again.
And then, one week before Christmas 2018, the doctor told me I had endometriosis.
It was already too much. I got the news at work and sat in an empty meeting room and sobbed. I knew a bit about endometriosis from high-profile cases. I knew it was a condition characterized by pain, and I didn’t think I had any of its symptoms. “Your baseline is your baseline,” a nurse told me. “Maybe you can withstand a high threshold of pain, and you just think of it as normal.”
The bizarre thing about endometriosis is it doesn’t show on an ultrasound unless it causes other issues, so we needed to schedule surgery to both confirm I had the condition and clean it out. According to the doctor, this would be an easy fix (if you count abdominal surgery as “easy”). Once I was recovered, we could go back to trying.
When I woke from surgery there was a nurse hovering over me fussing with various cords. “My vagina bone hurts,” was all I could articulate to her. Matt was ushered into the room and held my hand as he explained they found stage two endometriosis, his other hand holding extremely high-definition photos of my uterus. I spent the next few days on the couch bleeding out the blue dye they had used in my fallopian tubes onto a maxi pad just like in the commercials.
Is this the end of our journey, or just the beginning of an even more trying path? All we can do is carry on, staring at the screen on the Clear Blue test each month, patiently waiting for the moment our lives are changed forever.