Navigating and healing from the aftermath of infertility.
Month 35: Broken
I’m laying on the couch, in too much pain to move. I’ve been here for two days. The skin under my heating pad is scalded bright red from using temps too high for too long, but it’s the only thing that helps. Any pain relief I had from surgery is gone. I’m starting to really hate my body. It’s broken. I’m broken.
I’ve been free falling the past two months, plummeting into a deep, numbing, depression. I cry daily, unexpectedly. I’m alone most of the time and avoid talking to anyone. It’s difficult to get out of bed. I don’t recognize myself.
I ruminate on whether I can get through another IVF cycle. I picture the syringes full of hormones being pumped into my body. Hormones that feed the disease and amplify the pain. Can I really let myself hope again? Sacrifice more of my time, my energy, my body? Hell, I’m barely getting through each day right now. Every mundane task feels like an unconquerable feat.
The alternative, a childless life, is equally terrifying.
Month 39: Reproductive Endocrinologist, Take 2
As soon as I walk into the office, I panic. I try to give my information to the receptionist but my voice and hands are shaking, tears are forming. I finish with the front desk and take a seat in the waiting room. I text my friend. Waiting at the RE’s and am almost in tears. I don’t know if I can do this. She responds with the exact words I need to hear. You don’t have to do this. You can leave. I don’t leave but appreciate the reminder that I’m here voluntarily, to get information.
A few minutes later I’m sitting across from the RE. “I have all the info from your previous clinic. Let’s talk about your options” he says. I tell him how much pain I’m in, about my surgery. “All my doctors have told me the IVF meds don’t have much impact on endo and fibroids, but my pain got so much worse after my last cycle” I say. “Well, of course the hormones are going to impact your endometriosis. If you decide to do another round of IVF, plan on having another surgery right after” he responds.
Month 40: Therapy
I’m at my therapist’s. For the last few weeks I’ve been leaning towards not doing another IVF cycle, but it feels so final. It’s my last chance at pregnancy. I’ve also scheduled an appointment with an endo specialist to try to figure out why I’m still in so much pain. “The RE wants me to repeat all of the bloodwork and do another HSG before I make my decision. Part of me wants to see where my AMH and FSH levels are. My body is such a mess, I bet they’re really bad. If they are, it would help me feel better about not doing another IVF cycle, because the chances would be so low of it working.”
She was quiet for a minute, then said, “Whenever I hear you talk about another cycle, you always sound like you’re looking for a reason to not go through with it. If you decide not to do it, you don’t have to justify it to anyone.”
This touched on a common theme of our sessions – pregnancy at any cost. Although I hadn’t been Mormon in almost a decade, the teachings around motherhood still rattled around in my head: You are a sacred vessel. Your purpose is to bring children into the world. You will never know happiness unless you have children. Everything else you accomplish is meaningless. Logically, I knew this wasn’t true. But it was so ingrained that it was hard to dismiss entirely.
It was also bringing up a whole mess of weird emotions, like guilt and shame. I felt guilty that I was ready to give up. Guilt that my parents and inlaws wouldn’t have grandkids by me. That I couldn’t give my nieces and nephews cousins. That I couldn’t make my husband a dad. Shame that my body is broken. That I’m not strong enough to keep trying.
And one question haunts me: how much do I have to sacrifice to prove to everyone, including myself, how badly I want to be a mom? Have I done enough? Have I sacrificed enough of my time, my mental health, my body, that no one can doubt how badly I wanted it?
“Sometimes, I just feel like I can’t do it anymore. Like I can’t sacrifice my health for this minuscule chance that a second IVF round will work,” I say.
“That doesn’t make you a bad person. It’s okay to put your health first,” she says.
This triggers something in me and I start sobbing uncontrollably, primally. She’s the first person to say this to me. To tell me that it’s okay for me to stop, that I’ve given everything I’m willing to give, and that’s okay. It’s okay that I want my health and my life back more than I want to hold onto the sliver of hope that I can get pregnant. And that this doesn’t make a bad person.
Month 41: Endo Specialist, Take 2
It’s official. I want my life back more than I want to hold onto the dream of a baby. I have a consultation with another endometriosis specialist and this time it’s different. I am ready to make a decision based on my health alone, fertility be damned.
I tell the doctor my history – the surgeries, the IVF cycle, the recurrence of symptoms.
“Why did they do IVF on you?” he asks, irritation in his voice. “Between the endo, fibroids and polyps, that was irresponsible. No wonder you feel terrible. I have no doubt it was the fertility drugs that put you in my office today.”
I’m a little taken aback because every other doctor has been dismissive of my questions about how much damage the fertility drugs could do.
“I want to do whatever I can to feel as healthy as possible. What do you recommend?”
Month 42: Surgery #3
I’ve been trying to get pregnant for 42 months. 42 cycles of hope and despair. I’ve seen hundreds of negative pregnancy tests during that time. Today, I take my last one.
I’m in an exam room being prepped for surgery. “Any chance you could be pregnant?” asks the nurse. “No” I reply. “Well, we’ll need a urine sample to be sure.” She hands me the little plastic cup and I head into the bathroom. I can’t believe this is how it ends. It seems like a cruel, sick, joke. I think of how excited, how full of hope I was that first month trying, running out of the bathroom waving the little plastic stick around while I waited for the little + sign to form.
This is the last pregnancy test I’ll ever take.
A few minutes later my husband is stroking my hand, kissing me on the forehead. I blow him a kiss and tell him I love him, and am whisked away to the operating room for my hysterectomy.