I don’t have an exciting infertility story.
You probably didn’t even know we struggled with infertility. Although since we have twins, you’ve wondered. Some of you have even asked me in your own polite way. Were you surprised? Do twins run in your family? Did you know you were having twins?
I do have a story, but it isn’t exciting. We didn’t try for years and years to get pregnant. I, thankfully, didn’t have miscarriage after miscarriage.
Our story is simple: We had one kid easily. And then we couldn’t get pregnant again. We saw a team of doctors, I took lots of medicines that made me a little chubby and a lot crazy, I peed on a lot of sticks, I cried a lot, I had a minor surgery, we had six failed IUIs (intrauterine insemination, where they place the sperm directly in the uterus and hope for fertilization), I prayed a lot, I was finally diagnosed with crappy egg quality, and that left us with our best option being IVF (in vitro fertilization, where an egg is fertilized in a petri dish, and then a healthy embryo or two, depending on your odds of implantation, is placed into the uterus).
When all this was happening, I didn’t talk about it. Not because I was ashamed, but because I didn’t want to answer all the questions. Some women speak of being ashamed of their infertility, of feeling like less of a woman, or a failure. I never felt that way.
I didn’t talk about it because I didn’t want the looks of pity. I didn’t want every single conversation I had to be about my uterus. I didn’t want my friends to be uncomfortable, not knowing what to say.
I didn’t want to not be thinking about it for a moment, only to be reminded when some well-meaning friend asked me how I was doing: “How are you? No, really, how are you?”
And I didn’t talk about it because I didn’t want to hear your opinion.
“You’ll get pregnant when you’re not trying. Relax!”
“It’s all God’s plan. Relax!”
“Just be thankful you already have one kid.”
I didn’t talk about it because we decided to do IVF, and I knew how controversial that could be. I didn’t want to know how my friends would feel about it because I knew I would cut them out in a heartbeat if they challenged me on it. I can tolerate many differences of opinion, but don’t bring my children into it. I thought it was better not to know how they felt than to lose friends.
And eventually, I didn’t talk about it because it wasn’t just my story to tell anymore. I had two sweet babies on the way, and maybe they wouldn’t want their beginnings told to everyone.
But it’s different now. It’s been a real learning experience for me. I’m proud of my babies, and I want them to be proud of themselves. I want them to know how wanted they were, how loved they are. They were loved before they ever existed.
IVF was hard. It was difficult financially, it was difficult emotionally, and it was difficult physically. I almost changed my mind a lot during the weeks that directly proceeded the beginning of the process. I was terrified — not of the money, or the medicines, or the injections. I was terrified because I knew we only had this one last shot. Up until those moments, I always believed I would get pregnant again, that it was just a matter of time. But IVF was our final answer, and if it failed, I knew I’d have to close a door I wasn’t ready to close.
We went to the beach the week before we were scheduled to start the treatments. I cried the entire car ride home, knowing my life was about to go one direction or the other, and I had no control over it. It was so emotional, so scary, it brings me to tears even now, more than a year removed from it.
We made a stop at a local produce stand on the way home. The lady who ran it also sold jewelry, and I found a bracelet that said, “The Lord will fight for you. You need only be still.” I bought it and wore it every day throughout my IVF treatment. I believed it.
As the treatment progressed, my body didn’t respond the way it was “supposed to.” There was talk of only one possible egg to attempt fertilization and implantation, there was talk of no eggs at all, there was talk of a failed cycle. I was given the difficult choice of deciding whether or not to halt the cycle and try again, but that would mean thousands of dollars more and we just couldn’t afford it.
The Lord will fight for you. You need only be still.
We pressed on. I gave myself injections for 12 days and went to the doctor almost daily to check the progress and make sure I didn’t hyper-stimulate my ovaries. There were tears and screaming and laughter and anticipation and praying — lots of that. And there was a doctor I grew to love so much because she gave me hope when I was at my lowest.
And finally, there were eggs! Nine of them! On a Friday afternoon, my doctor went in and took them.
And early on a Saturday morning, she called to tell me they all fertilized. All of them. Nine fertilized eggs! Nine embryos.
Because my odds of pregnancy were low, we transferred two embryos to my uterus.
Twins weren’t the goal — a healthy single pregnancy was the goal. But I loved those two embryos from the moment I knew they existed.
As much as the thought of twins scared me, I couldn’t possibly wish for one to not implant.
When I got my first positive pregnancy test, I was shocked.
I’d seen so many negatives, I wasn’t actually expecting that positive. I hit my knees and cried harder than I’d cried throughout the entire struggle. I cried for hours, sitting right there on my bedroom floor. And when I was done, I finally knew everything was going to be okay.
So when we went for our first ultrasound and saw two babies, but only one heartbeat, I wasn’t overly worried. I knew that second heartbeat would be there next time. I knew we’d have two healthy babies. I knew there was a chance Baby B wouldn’t make it, but I felt at peace.
The Lord will fight for you. You need only be still.
And when we went back a week later, I breathed a huge sigh of relief when the doctor smiled and showed us that second heartbeat.
And then I froze in fear when she told us that Baby B split and was now Baby B and Baby C. Triplets. She wasn’t happy about it, and I can’t say I was either. Baby B and Baby C were mo-mo twins, and the risks that caused for all three babies were great.
So when she confirmed that Baby C had no heartbeat, I felt another moment of relief wash over me. And in the very next instant, I felt the worst kind of remorse for feeling that relief. But I couldn’t deny that I felt it. It took months into my pregnancy before it really hit me that I had my first and only miscarriage during an otherwise successful pregnancy. But when it hit me, I mourned that loss hard. And sometimes now when I look at B and I can see what his identical twin would have looked like, I mourn the loss again.
So now we have three healthy boys, and we debate whether or not we might want a fourth one day. The other thing we have is four frozen embryos, just waiting for us to choose what to do with them. And I love them. How can I not love them? If I loved S and B before they were conceived — and I did — are the four frozen embryos not the same? They too were very much wanted, but it was luck of the draw, survival of the fittest. S and B developed first and appeared to be the highest quality, so they made the cut. But truly, it could have been any of them. I look at S and B and think, what if you were frozen? What if I had some other kid in your place?
So, yes, I love my four frozen little embryos, and I think about them a lot. But do I believe they’re alive? No. They need me — or another willing mother — for that.
Do I believe they have the same rights that my living children have? No. But those who proposed the “personhood” bill seem to feel otherwise. They would lead you to believe that it’s just about abortion, but it’s not. The language of the bill would make IVF virtually impossible.
IVF is expensive and hard on the body. Couples don’t just jump straight to it as an answer when they can’t grow their family. But because it’s so expensive, the goal is often to produce as many healthy eggs in one cycle as possible. Those eggs are then fertilized in a lab for about five days before the healthiest of the embryos are transferred to the mother’s uterus. Any remaining embryos are then frozen, giving the couple a chance to get pregnant in the future if the first transfer doesn’t result in pregnancy, a miscarriage occurs, or if the couple wishes to have more children in the future.
The personhood legislation pushes the idea that life begins at fertilization. If that legislation passes, the legality of the procedures we used to get our beautiful sons would be called into question. If the personhood bill passes, anything that puts an embryo at risk could be a criminal violation.
If an embryo from an IVF cycle doesn’t develop normally (three of ours didn’t), could the physician, lab, or patient be criminally liable?
Would IUIs be criminal violations because they carry a higher risk of miscarriage?
Would women with health problems such as fibroids or other uterine problems be forbidden to attempt pregnancy because the risk of miscarriage is too great?
Would women who suffer ectopic pregnancies be allowed to receive life-saving treatment, or would the embryo’s legal rights take precedence?
What about the embryos that have already been created from IVF? What about my frozen embryos? Will I still have the right to transfer one or more to my uterus in the hopes of implantation and birth? Or does that run too much of a risk for the embryo?
Do I think it will pass? It’s been previously submitted for consideration many times before, and each time has died in committee without a vote, so no, I don’t think it will pass this time either.
But I’m furious it’s even been introduced again. And I’m furious with anybody who supports it. I said before that I didn’t want to know people’s opinions on IVF because I didn’t want to lose friends over it. Well, I’m ready to do that if I have to. If you support the personhood bill, you are against the very thing that allowed my children to be born. And if you’re against my children, you are no friend of mine.
For the record, we don’t know yet what we’re going to do with our four remaining embryos. But we think about it, we talk about it, we pray about it. It is an important decision to us. We know that our hopes for them is that they’re eventually transferred to a uterus in hopes of implantation and birth. We just can’t decide if we want to transfer one more for ourselves, or if we want to adopt all of them out to another couple.
Regardless, our embryos will have a chance at life. But as much as I love them, as much as they mean to me, they are not lives now.
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