Infertility and Assisted Reproduction
Personal Stories of Infertility and Pregnancy Loss
At the end of 2002 the life that I had created for myself as a quasi successful Hollywood assistant gal was ended by one phone call. That call was from my mother and the news she relayed to me stopped life as I knew it. Suddenly I didn't care about getting the latest Ugg boots or whether or not I could get tickets to an afterparty. I didn't care that my super needy boss wouldn't have time to train a replacement. I needed to go home. As in where the family was. As in all the way back across the country to the deep, deep, have-some-mayonnaise-with-that South.
My grandfather was dying.
I should say now that I come from a primo line of strong and determined women. Pretty much everything that I have ever achieved has been from a lesson that I learned from either a great-grandmother, a great aunt, a geriatric female cousin, a perfectionist grandmother, or a stubborn mother. You didn't tell us what to do -- you showed us and then you got out of the way. Within my female family line there were cactus farmers, lawyers, pilots, writers, artists and community leaders.
But my grandfather was my heart.
When he died on one of the first days of 2003, all of us strong women were weak with grief and emptiness. We propped each other up when we could, but mostly we retreated to our own self-made dens of sorrow. When the last of the sympathy cards had arrived, I noticed that my grandmother had not bounced back to life the way that I had imagined she would. Sure there was grief, but there was something else. In our case, sadly, the something else was Alzheimer's disease.
With that diagnosis, the path that my life was on swiftly changed again and I made the decision that I would never go back to Hollywood. My grandmother needed someone to be with her, and that someone could and should be me. I was the one: the girl that had already been to school, already seen some adventure, the girl with no husband, no children. I was the obvious choice to become the roommate and undercover caregiver. (I say undercover as in those early years Grandmother would not admit that she needed help of any kind.)
I got a job at the local University where I was useless and bored. Grandmother seemed to be ok by herself during the day, but then I began to come home to burned potholders and phone messages in gibberish. I had a lengthy talk with my mother, who was currently living a state over and stuck in a crap job, and we decided that this was the time to rally. Mother decided to quit her job and move back to the same southern town she had spent years trying to get away from. I quit my job at the University and we found a bigger house to live in, one that could accommodate three generations of women who needed their own studies and bathrooms. And we quickly fell into a beautiful rhythm of routine.
A year after the generations merged, I realized that I actually enjoyed this slowed down pace of life. I loved being needed by someone who wasn't going to call me at three in the morning to drive a script over to some starlet's house. I was needed by my grandmother. It was then that I began to have the dreams. Long and meandering dreams featuring my grandfather by my side. And in most of the dreams I wasn't a caregiver but a mother. It was in seeing myself that way in my dreams that I knew that I could do it.
And by "do it" I mean that I could be a mother on my own, without a husband or boyfriend.
It is surprising now how swiftly the idea came to me and how instantly I knew I would begin as soon as I could. I had a long talk with my mother about being a single mother- she did it, she would know if I could do it too. And she helped me research and plan and locate a doctor that would treat me (only one clinic in the entire Southern state would accept me as a single patient). Since she was the only one of us earning an income and that income was basically responsible for sustaining our little family unit, it was a gift from her to be able to begin to try to conceive. We decided that we would try until my dream was achieved.
Thirteen failed intrauterine inseminations (IUIs) later, we were both tapped out of hope. We had all moved down to Florida for Mother to work with another company and Grandmother and I kept each other entertained at home. I was shocked that my body had not achieved a pregnancy, shocked and depressed. I began to think that I was cursed, or that my failure to get pregnant was a sign that I was not meant to be a mother. I began to resent my caregiving role and felt like less of a woman.
Somehow I didn't give up. (This is most likely a genetic stubborn gene that I mentioned earlier!) I began making a little bit of money at home by doing some graphic design and photography for local businesses. I invested the money in a little account and I began researching places for affordable IVFs. Again I was dealing with clinics that would not see me due to my single status. I finally found a clinic in a northeast state that was not very far from one of my best friend's. I signed up to be a shared egg donor with this clinic (that means that I would donate half of my retrieved eggs to another woman or couple in exchange for the cost of an IVF). Almost six months later I found out that I had been matched with another woman and that my IVF journey was going to begin.
We had made the choice not to tell my grandmother about all of my IUIs- not because we didn't think she would approve, but because with Alzheimer's it would have been a hard thing for her to remember. But with IVF I knew I would be more of an emotional basketcase. Not having a husband or partner to fall back on for support, I decided to tell Grandmother in the hopes that she would be another hand to hold as I went through the process. And it was a rough process. The shared donor cycle fell through and I was suddenly having to fund an entire IVF on my own.
Both my mother and grandmother were amazing at helping me through. My grandmother squeezed my hand at local doctor appointments and my mother helped me figure out the injections. Soon it was time for me to head up north on my own. I was sad to be alone in a waiting room chock full of couples. Thankfully, my best friend joined me as often as she could -- but still, fertility clinic waiting rooms are the worst for single women.
That Christmas something that I deeply wanted arrived: a positive pregnancy test. I was pregnant! I was going to bring a fourth generation into the house! Suddenly the world was more vivid and the universe was my friend.
And a week later I was told that I would soon be unpregnant -- my beta level, which had risen beautifully, stopped rising. It was just after New Year's and I was broke, depressed, and basically waiting to bleed. I wanted to die. Literally. I just wanted to stop being on the planet. It felt so wrong and unjust that something I had worked so hard for, saved for, prayed for, could happen and then unhappen so swiftly. My mind raced, my heart hurt, and the parts that comprised my femaleness were cursed out.
It took longer for me to bleed than it did to complete my IVF cycle. Each day I was a revolving door of emotions: the pregnancy hormones were still in my body and making me nauseous and stupidly hopeful, and the PMS type cramps were happening nightly. My face broke out and my jeans became too tight and I lived on red wine and pistachios.
I began to resent my mother, whom I had oddly and unfairly placed in a sort of partner role. I raged that I had no husband to mourn with, no significant other to send me flowers or take me out of the house. I had so many people to celebrate with when the test was positive, but now that I was unpregnant I was more alone than ever. I felt like a little baby's soul had rejected me. That maybe I was just too lame for the soul to cling to, or maybe I wasn't enough of a parent for it to thrive. Maybe my anxiety had killed it. Maybe it was the lack of red meat in my diet. Maybe... well it could have been anything.
When I finally bled, I didnít feel the closure I hoped for, but instead felt like I was moving swiftly into a chapter of my life that would be dark. I knew that everything in the timeline of my life would be pre-pregnancy and post unpregnancy. I was never going to be the same. Ever.
Months and months passed and the depression still clung to me. I doubted that I would ever be able to afford to try again, and with those doubts, a part of me died every day. Other women that had supported me through the unpregnancy and their own griefs were back to trying again and I seethed in jealousy. Everything seemed unfair and wrong and I was utterly removed from any reason for happiness.
On one of the first days of April a hand reached out through the storms with a ray of light. The one hand then became many and a slew of women I barely knew pulled me up out of depression and gave me hope. We would do a fundraiser to give me another chance at single parenthood. People donated money, time, skills, and items to auction off. In three months I had enough money to fly back up to the northeast, thaw some of my frozen embryos, and try again.
Honestly, the only thing that got me through was seeing that it was not the end. In thinking that I would never achieve such a primal yearning I was shut down. When I was shown that it didn't have to be the end I was, in a very real sense, reborn.
The cycle that my friends helped me achieve is the cycle that ultimately worked for me. And in a beautiful moment of full circle, the due date for my son is exactly one year later to the day that the hand reached through with hope. Of course I still find myself thinking about what almost was from the December cycle, what could have been, what should have been. When the due date of the unpregnancy happened I was uncontrollably sad. Yes, it was a bit easier to face being pregnant, but it was still a mournful day of something that I will never know. I now say thanks to the stars every night for another day of pregnancy, another day closer to the dream of motherhood.
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