An Infertility Story, Part 3

Causes of infertility, data compiled in the Un...

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If you’re just joining us, click here for  part 1 and part 2 of the series.

By June of 2003, we’re well into a familiar pattern: I get emotional, Christian gets frustrated. He feels that I won’t allow him to get excited when we see signs that might mean pregnancy, but I counter that I just want to keep our feet on the ground in anticipation of the fall. Trouble is, it doesn’t really help. Every time we discover that we’re not pregnant, it’s like a big pit opens and we fall right in, and spend two days crawling back out of it. He can’t stand seeing me weeping every time I leave the doctor’s office.

2002 is a rough year all the way around. But there are moments of incredible beauty, too. Like the day when I stand in my parents’ kitchen with my mom and her mom. Up till now we’ve shared our struggles with parents and siblings and a few close friends, but we haven’t gone public. As we stand in the kitchen that afternoon, Grandma tells me about her two miscarriages; and before I know it, we are crying together for the pain of the past and the pain of the present, and it’s a moment of connection I realize I would never have had were it not for this cross I’ve been asked to bear.

Cycles continue to be long, with ambiguous signs. The pain of every failure does not dull, but I begin to understand that God’s will for me is not yes or no, but wait. And as I wait, I find my heart changing. I think that perhaps this is one of those testing times. Not a test to see if we pass or fail, but a chance for us to learn our own strength—to decide between abandoning our principles or accepting the unknown. And all of a sudden, one day, I find myself able to let go. I call my older sister, who is on the wait list to adopt from China, and for the first time I really consider the adoption option.

Finally we decide to do something we’ve been avoiding because of distance: namely, go see the NFP doctors, two hours away. At the end of June, we have our first appointment with Dr. Mark Stegman. He speaks our language. He asks questions, looks at our charts, tells me that treatment regimens can only be determined after we know what the problems are; we have some in-depth diagnostics to do first. It’s a moment of incredible hope.

A week later, we have a huge fight. Christian’s sick to death of infertility ruling our entire existence. He wants to quit treatment altogether. I nearly hyperventilate, and eventually we work out a compromise: we’ll keep going, but I have to be more positive about life.

I learn to chart Creighton NFP, a much more detailed record of secretions than what we learned through CCL, though it lacks the temperature cross-check. Certain types of observations point to certain diagnoses, and this helps trained doctors dig down past the symptom (infertility) to the cause behind it. The advantage of NaPro technology is that once you know the problem and address it, your body can do its job properly, not just for this time, but the next and the next. It’s a more holistic way of addressing infertility.

We cross another milestone early this fall: we decide it’s time to go public. We break down in front of our church choirs (at that time, each of us had one) and tell them what’s been going on; we send an email to uncles, aunts, cousins and the large list of friends.

In one way, this is good; now we have a vast support network praying, cheering us on. But we also have many more people offering unsolicited advice and comments. “But you’re so young to be worrying about this!” they protest, even though I’m not—not for having children; I’m 28 at this point, hardly a vast age, but certainly not young to be having children.

People toss around the word “adoption,” as in: “Well, if you can’t get pregnant, you can always adopt. As soon as you adopt, you’ll get pregnant.” Perhaps they don’t realize that no agency in its right mind will let a couple adopt until they’re sure the parents have “resolved their infertility issues.”

And of course, there’s the doozie: some variation on, “You’ve got to relax! As soon as you stop stressing out, you’ll get pregnant!”

Nothing can provoke an infertile woman to near-violence more quickly than the words “relax” or “stress.” How am I supposed to respond to that helpful piece of advice? “Oh, silly me, how right you are; I think I’ll relax now, all better!” Rrrriiiight. Of course I’m stressed! Being told not to be ratchets the stress up a notch or two with every repetition. If you come away from this series of posts with nothing else, carry from it this lesson: NEVER mention the word “stress” to an infertile couple. True or not, it is absolutely the most counterproductive thing you can possibly say.

At my next visit to Dr. Stegman, he performs a physical examination. There’s another rectal exam, but he warns me first, and he’s very gentle. Nonetheless, I hiss with pain. He pauses. “Now, I need you to separate the discomfort of the invasion from actual—”

I’m already shaking my head. “No, it’s definitely pain, and it’s definitely inside.”

He nods. “There’s something there that shouldn’t be,” he says. He suspects that it’s endometriosis. The only way to know for sure is to do a laparoscopy. He also sees what he calls “cervical eversion,” which is when the cervix turns partially inside out, exposing the fluid-producing glands to the hostile environment of the vagina. This causes them to go crazy producing secretions, and that confuses the signs of fertility we’re trying to use to get pregnant.

I think: How did Doctor #1 miss this? But I know the answer: because Dr. #1 is too focused on his standard regimen and not enough on finding the problem.

I go in for surgery on the first anniversary of 9/11. Dr. Stegman comes into the pre-op room, perches beside my cot and prays with me, and I’m filled with gratitude that I’ve finally found a doctor I can trust.

Join me tomorrow for the last part of the story.

10 thoughts on “An Infertility Story, Part 3

  1. It is an odd thing that infertility so clearly reveals issues that all of us have, but somehow can only see when *others* are struggling. It is simply true that our perceptions and expectations are at the root of the majority of our unhappiness, but somehow people only notice this (and feel free to point it out!) to couples (women?) struggling with infertility.

    I am glad though that you were able to share your experience with some people who understood, even if it came at the cost of crazy annoying comments. And thank God for good doctors!

    • Totally unprompted. I think it’s pretty standard for NFP doc’s, b/c their whole practice is an expression of their faith; it’s their vocation. Dr. Dixon, who’s delivered all my kids via C-section, comes in to pray before he scrubs for surgery too. I think a lot of people would be uncomfortable with this, but what I love about it is that these doctors are able to have their faith and their scientific expertise walking in lock-step. The part I really remember is him praying that God would guide his hands and those of the surgery assistants. You know, these doctors keep the most brutal schedules, and our lives are in their hands, even if they’ve been “on” for eight or ten or twelve hours. I love them acknowledging that they aren’t God, that they need help just like anyone else. It just changes the whole tenor of the procedure.

  2. What a struggle. And I’m so happy you shared with others. I’m sorry about the comments, though. It reminded me…My husband and I were open to baby #5 starting this past summer. It took 4 months to conceive (an eternity for a couple who *always* got pregnant on the first try)…and my doctor (NFP doc! very well-versed in Creighton/NaPro) says, “Well, sometimes stress plays a role”…interesting, right?

    Anyway, I really enjoy these posts and thank you for being open about your experience. While I can’t say I’ve been in your shoes, I have witnessed how infertility can eat at the core of a woman’s soul and test so many aspects of marriage. And we all should be aware and sympathetic and prayerful for those enduring the cross/struggle. God bless.

    • michelle, stress can play a role in the short term! i think that’s where the confusion lies. i actually just linked to an article on my blog that shows this study.

  3. i like what Rae said…somehow when you mention what you’re going through people see a free pass to discuss all of these issues that are still personal, if not more personal because of the link to vocation and grieving the loss. These issues that everyone has, its just yours manifest themselves in a way people feel free to comment. And then you look like the crazy one when you point that out. Ahh, the isolating struggle 🙂

  4. I actually just heard about this kind of clinic and referred a friend in Texas to one. Great to hear a little more about it. So wish I had found a clinic more interested in identifying the problem than just hitting their standard regimine back when I was in my 20’s.

    Of course, it is hard to have regrets about my infertility because I just feel like I learned so much and grew in my faith so significantly and we can’t forget my little girl who we ended up adopting years later. I always tell friends struggling that it was hell I wouldn’t wish on anyone but I would never give up the experience, I gained too much from it.

  5. stephalex

    I can’t say I understand what you went through, because I was fortunate enough to have an easy time of it. I have, however, many friends who have gone through such trying times. In the DC area its very common for women to wait until their late 30’s and 40’s to start trying for a baby. I got pregnant with my first at 25, and I was the youngest obstetrical patient my practice had seen in two years. My doctor said, quote, “I will be ignoring you!” She’d a doll, so I forgave her.

    Anyway, point being I have many friends who have been in your shoes, and no matter what means you choose to move your family forward (NFP, IVF, adoption, forego having children) it’s such an intensely emotional, personal process. I don’t think anyone should offer advice unless they’ve been there!

    Very brave of you to put your story out there! I’m impressed. And very happy things turned out so well with your beautiful family. 🙂

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