We embark on the journey to parenthood with a considerable leg up on most people: namely, we understand how the process works. We know, because of NFP, the hormonal shifts and the changes in my body they cause, and we’ve been tracking them for a couple of years already: cervical fluids and temperature shift. But we also know that my patterns are considerably less than ideal: long, ambiguous secretions without the clear pattern that you want when you’re trying to conceive. And polycystic ovaries run in our family; one sister has opted to adopt, and another has had medical complications. So we go into the process feeling nervous, but hopeful. After all, we also know how to target our efforts.
We start trying just after 9/11. Mired in the sense of history, I feel that this is one way in which we can respond to all the death and destruction: by bringing new life into the world. I’ve also already done a lot of research, which reveals that every 5 pounds lost by a woman with PCO yields some increased percentage of getting pregnant. Since I have some of the symptoms, it seems like a good idea to try. Late summer and early fall 2001, I lose almost ten pounds.
For the first couple of cycles, we take our failure to conceive in stride. Still, I can’t suppress a niggle of concern. When I express my fears to a couple of people, they joke, “Well, at least it’s really fun to practice!” I roll my eyes, because the experience these last two cycles has been anything but fun. It’s my first introduction to the reality that people have no idea how to react to infertility.
The failures continue. Every morning from Day 10 of temperature rise on, we hold our breath, hoping the temperatures will stay up, as if breathing might knock us over the edge and make them fall. But always, the temperature falls anyway. We begin to ask, “Why?” I start to question what exactly faith requires in situations like these. And I start to see the world through new eyes. All of a sudden, I see money thrown around, and I begin to find it repulsive, a sign of people who don’t get what’s really important.
Christian anchors me in these months. He has a gift for living in the moment, the ability to clear his mind and simply be, and for the first time I recognize the strength of that attribute.
Early in 2002, I write in my Journal, “I know God doesn’t give us more than we can handle, but right now I think he’s really pushing the limit.” We’re mired in family conflicts; angry parishioners are complaining about the Lenten décor; and sex abuse is rearing its ugly head in the Church, which touches us on multiple fronts, as I work full-time in the Church.
I see myself changing in these pages of the Journal. For the first time I’m really coming face to face with my own physical weaknesses, and their emotional mirrors, and it teaches me that I can’t go around passing judgment as if I am God. Perhaps it’s suffering that leads to that kind of growth.
As we approach the critical 6-month mark, my cycles get wildly erratic, with long, long patches of less-than-ideal secretions that don’t hold much promise for conception; yet all we can do is barrel through it. “The problem with trying to get pregnant on delayed ovulation,” I write, “is that you get tired of having sex every 36 hours.”
My sister and her husband are preparing paperwork to adopt from China, a process we’re beginning to watch more closely. People are getting pregnant all around us. People who don’t want to be pregnant. And are complaining about it. To us. I want to murder them. Really. I envision my hands on their throats. Every time I hear about another pregnancy, I close the door and weep. And hurl some choice words Heaven-ward.
On March 9, 2002, we hit 6 months of trying, and we go to local specialist for the first time. He flips through my NFP charts without pausing long enough to read my name, much less look at the data, and tosses them aside. He does this horrific exam—I have never had a rectal exam; I have no idea it’s coming. Talk about a feeling of violation! I cringe and stifle a shriek. He tells me I have polycystic ovaries (PCO) and there’s nothing we can do outside of infertility treatment. “If you weren’t trying to get pregnant, I’d put you on the Pill right now,” he says, telling me I’m recklessly risking cervical cancer and endometriosis by refusing to manipulate my body with hormones.
What about glucophage? I ask, bringing up what I’ve read online. “Glucophage treatment is based on faulty research. “I should have such healthy patients,” he rails. “These women have 10 cycles a year, they’re within 10 pounds of their ideal weight range.” Hello! I want to say. You’re describing ME! Don’t you think it’s worth a try?
Instead, he prescribes his standard, one-size-fits-all regimen: 5 days of clomid, followed by an HCG shot and insemination on Day 14 and a couple weeks of progesterone. No, we say. We aren’t doing insemination.
He looks at us like we’ve lost our minds. “This isn’t high-tech, you know,” he says witheringly, and I feel my emotions shrivel. But I have my husband by my side, and we hold firm. We are not doing insemination.
He lets it go for the time being. I get my regimen of clomid, I come in for a shot, I get my pack of 14 suppositories. Yes, I said suppositories. Yes, it’s every bit as bad as it sounds. Worse, in fact. Those two weeks redefine “hormonal.” Take everything you’ve ever heard about PMS, and double it. Three times. Somewhere deep inside, I am horrified by what is coming out of my mouth, but I don’t seem to have any control over it. Christian is an angel; he puts up with hatefulness that no one should have to listen to in a spouse. But even so, his instinct as a man is to fix it, and he can’t. He doesn’t want to dwell on our infertility with the maudlin focus he sees in me, but I can’t seem to think about anything else. So there’s conflict. We both breathe a sigh of relief when the last day of progesterone arrives. And the next day, I bleed.
Three times we go through this: clomid, shot, progesterone/marriage-damaging-nastiness. Christian gets tested; the results are mixed. The doctor’s staff starts pushing for insemination, and under their pushing, I question the certainty of my beliefs. I see the doctor several times a month, and every time, I leave the office in tears. I went to him for hope and instead I find myself more wounded than ever.
Surely there must be a better way.