So a little time has passed since the last time I wrote and I was waxing whiney about the fact that my wife was pregnant for the fifth time, how it’s almost certainly going to be another miscarriage, how emotionally damaging the last four have been on her, etc. etc. etc. I suppose it may have been over the top frustrated, but the outlet of an anonymous blog provides an infertile person like me the opportunity to not sugar coat this very real fiasco.
As we get a little further into the first trimester, I’m not really any more optimistic, but the shock has subsided and consequently I’m much calmer. At least as I write this update, sparks won’t be flying from the keyboard or curse words won’t be floating around in my head.
Here are a few observations that have jumped out at me in the early stages of the sage I’ve not so affectionately deemed: pregnancy cinco.
1. Our doctors are no longer acting like Richard Simmons when they talk about our pregnancy: chipper, peppy, slapping us on the back and giving us pep talks about how “todo va a salir muy bien, ya verás!” (“Everything’s going to work out just fine, you’ll see!”). Now we’ve finally found a doctor that has maintained professionalism and sobriety. She shoots straight, doesn’t speak in platitudes or give false hope. Last week, she calmly talked through the steps we would take at 12 weeks (if it’s even alive by then) to test for chromosomal abnormalities. Thank God, I think another Richard Simmons might have sent me off the edge. I’m not kidding.
2. Even though we try not to, we are getting our hopes up. How could you not? The little heartbeat you see on the eco doesn’t allow for anything less. That little grape or peanut or whatever size it is, is in fact a human life. And it is ALIVE right now in my wife’s womb.
3. My wife has never been this sick before. We’ve spent seven days of the last month in the hospital because of excessive vomiting and subsequent dehydration. One night my wife’s face was as pale as Casper the ghost. I had trouble looking at her.
4. I have nothing to complain about in comparison to my wife, but man I’m exhausted taking care of EVERYTHING. I really feel for families that go through cancer treatment. My wife’s been out of commission for weeks, but I can’t imagine what it’s like to live for months with your spouse out of commission.
5. If this pregnancy ends in another loss, I am going to vie for a vasectomy. Of course we’ll make the decision together and it’s super important I respect my wife’s desires, but I’m going to push pretty hard for it. Maybe others would keep going, but I really believe that 7 years, 30-40 + thousand dollars (not counting bills from psychologists), and the loss of our emotional sanity are enough. Enough’s enough. Sometimes you have to draw a line in the sand and move on.
The worst news we could possibly receive came in the form of a positive pregnancy test two weeks ago. My wife is pregnant for the fifth time. This is horrible news, absolutely horrendous. It is the worst news we could have imagined. And it’s not because we have four kids and didn’t want this one, it’s because all the others died in my wife’s womb, and apart from a miracle, this one will to.
We figured something was up when on our 10-year anniversary cruise my wife could barely get up for the day’s activities. She was woozy, weak, needing frequent naps. Four days later, the typical 6-hour drive from Barcelona to Madrid stretched out to 8 hours, then 9, as we pulled over every 30 minutes for “bathroom stops.” Eventually, the violent stomach tossing and turning turned into the loss of every last ounce of liquid in her body–poor thing. It was at about hour 9 that I started to put the pieces together (I know, I know, it’s pathetic how slow I am.).
“Oh no, God! She’s pregnant!”
And, yes, she was, and still is, pregnant. A day after we arrived in Madrid, we bought the test, confirmed the pregnancy, and went to the emergency room for issues with dehydration. It took her 3 days on an IV to recover enough liquid and keep some food down to be able to come home.
So why am I devastated? It’s not just that each of those four other pregnancies were lost. It’s because every doctor had told us to stop trying because of chromosomal issues. It’s because now I am watching my wife get her hopes up and believe in miracles, and know that they eventually be dashed. It’s because she can’t naturally miscarry, and we will have to go through another expensive and uncomfortable experience of a DNC in Spain. It’s because my wife has incredible sickness and dehydration with every pregnancy, and this one is no different. It’s because even after the baby dies, her body keeps telling her she’s pregnant and she suffers. Worst of all, it’s because the emotional baggage will still be hanging around a year from now, or even longer.
I could go on, but I am already depressing myself and need to go to bed.
The irony is that we paid thousands and thousands of dollars for three healthy embryo transfers, timed perfectly to implant at just the right moment in my wife’s uterus. And they failed. A few months later, a misstep with our contraceptives and now this happens! We don’t even historically get pregnant that easy!
My wife came into the living room to interrupt my studies and caught me off guard, yet again. At random, she decided to throw on an old swimming suit, trounced around a bit, and asked me what I thought of the old one-piece. Now, I know where you probably think I’m going with this, but I’m not. She really wasn’t trying to turn me on or captivate my attention, but she was being silly. It was just so totally my wife that I had to laugh. She never ceases to throw me the proverbial curve. Then, also quite randomly, as I chuckled out loud to myself, I began to review reasons for why I appreciate her so. They simply raced across my mind: her intelligence, her laugh, her blue eyes, her perseverance, her organizational talents, her heart for her Lord. So many others… And they just came out of nowhere!
I know that my appreciation for her wouldn’t be this elevated if I hadn’t observed her diligence and strength through infertility these last few years. In so many ways, she’s carried us in these tough times and as we’ve come to the end of it all (not the infertility, but some of the worst pain), I can honestly say that I love her more than I even did before.
I’ve always been the kind of a guy that likes to know the odds. I never bet, but when I go see a baseball game, I want to know what Vegas says about my team’s odds of winning. When I watch the weather, I want the percentage chance of rain. Heck, when I’m simply walking along with my wife, I tend to start conversations with the phrase, “So what do you think the odds are that…?” Most of the time, my wife humors me. On her days with less than pristine patience, she’ll roll her eyes and ask me to hold off on my latest inclinations.
Part of the reason I enjoy percentages, probabilities, estimations, and odds, is because the experts who set these odds often hit the nail on the head. In the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, the odds of a 15-seeded team winning the whole thing, are well, preposterous. Vegas would probably make the odds 10 million to one, mainly because it’s never happened. The odds of it snowing in Cancun on your honeymoon are absolutely ridiculous because that doesn’t happen either.
Our first miscarriage was a shock for both of us. We were both young and ignorant, blind to the possibility that the little heart would stop beating. But after the DNC and our getting a little thicker skin, we entered into our second pregnancy and I wanted to know, “doctor, in your professional opinion, what are the odds this works out?” In other words, what do the statistics say about a woman who can get pregnant but miscarries one time. This doctor assured us, that very similar to our first pregnancy, the odds of miscarriage were 10%. Well, unfortunately for us, the baby died. 0 for 2.
On to pregnancy number three. This time I debated sparing my wife from hearing the question, but I just had to know, “Doc, so what are the odds?”
“Well, you guys are in a little higher risk category because of your other miscarriages, but given that we have worked out some of your wife’s iron deficiencies, etc., I would say really good odds.”
“Give me a number.”
“Oh, alright, I’d say 80 percent.”
I thought that wasn’t too bad. If you take two times at 90% odds, and once at 80%, the probability that one works out is like, well, I’m not a mathematician, but there really good!
The baby died.
On to our fourth and final pregnancy, “Doctor, I really want you to shoot straight with me. What are the chances on this one?” She mumbled something about 50/50.
When our fourth baby died and we went on to embryo adoption, I wanted the chances for each and every embryo transfer attempt. They were, according to the doctor 50%, 50%, and 50%. But all the embryos either died or did not implant.
Let’s just say you had 7 chances at something, with 50% odds. Supposedly, our odds with the miscarriages were much better, but for the sake of simplicity, let’s say you took a coin and flipped it 7 times, what are chances that it lands heads 7 times in a row? Not very good. I’m guessing less than 1%. Maybe you’re good at math and can help me out.
Can you get any unluckier than us? I suppose it’s possible. But with our bad luck, I bet that the odds aren’t that high.
How do you make do with the pain of losing a dream like having kids? How do you make it hurt less?
Every time you hear a birth announcement. Every time you watch your wife wince when some kicks an insensitive comment in her face. Every time someday else comes back from a miscarriage to have a healthy baby. Every time someone flips you off with a platitude. Every time a relative complains about her spoiled and ratty kids, or how tired they are (boo-hoo her). Every time your mother-in-law pushes you to adopt. Every time someone whines about his or her baby’s propensity to cry. Every time God seems silent. Every time somebody else’s prayer gets answered. Every time someone tells you to “count your blessings” or “just believe.” Every time we must listen to the voices of the mob that are reeling in the throws of all the happiness they’ve got.
“You know what, nothing makes our hair stand straight up on our neck or make us want to knock someone’s lights out like when someone’s values collide with our values.”
As I sat across from my friend in the hustle and bustle of a Spanish bar and listened to his comment, I felt an aha moment coming on. My friend was critiquing his work environment and team business models, but my thoughts jumped to my own emotional outbursts when people touched my own values and dreams related to having a family.
Really, he hit the nail on the head. No matter the context, if you step on someone’s value, it’s like striking the match on a stick of dynamite. And the bigger the value, the bigger the blast. What’s more, if you light the fuse of an infertile, well, you better run for cover. I think of the time my wife had to intervene so I didn’t chuck a younger Spanish’s boy’s soccer ball at his face (don’t ask), or the time I awkwardly changed the subject in a doctor’s office and grabbed my wife’s hand before she grabbed and chucked a pencil holder at her inconsiderate physician’s smug little smile.
Obviously, as I suppose we would qualify as time weathered infertile folks, my wife and I both have had our different fuses. But what’s fascinating is that you can usually track the line from one end of the fuse right up to a person’s biggest dreams: what they’ve always valued grabbing hold of with their future family.
In hindsight, I think it would have helped us to take a better look at our own personal explosive devices, i.e., our dreams. I’m not just talking about “I always wanted a kid.” Yes, at the core, this is the dream lost in infertility, the ultimate desire that ends up detonating our dynamite at various times and in various places. But interestingly enough, our fuses lead to other, more specific, even hidden values. For example, I never knew I valued seeing my own face in the face of my child…until my wife more easily was willing to transition to further treatments for less than fully biological children. She never knew the full significance of her dream to name a child, until the doctor casually commented as if she was talking about the weather, “oh yeah, your last fetal mass (miscarriage) was male in gender.”
I think the more we can recognize these values and really mourn their death, the more we’ll actually move on. We don’t just mourn the loss of being a Dad or a Mom; we must mourn never seeing our own DNA smiling back at us, never teaching our son how to swing a bat, or never getting to sing to our own swaddling bundle to sleep at night. We mourn the specifics. Here is a list of the top five things I’ll miss in not having a child:
1. A young person with whom I could share my Christian worldview and values
2. A young little guy or girl that looks like me
3. A little person to have on my lap while I read to him or her
4. Getting to teach and participate in sports
5. Watching the wonder of a child as explores and discovers
What lost dreams will you miss most?
I would venture a guess that something like 4 percent of the male population feels inherently romantic. Just say the word romance to the rest of us, and little beads of sweat appear on our brow and that nervous leg jitter reappears. We change the subject, laugh it off, or we make fun of “those guys” that buy flowers, write love notes, and try their hand at poetry.
For those of us in this 96 percent majority, those romantic guys don’t bother us at all, not at all, nada de nada. “Well, I guess if that guy really feels comfortable going to that dance class with his wife, more power to him.” (This is usually followed by an uncomfortable laugh) “Hey, it’s not for me, but if he wants to plan a candle light dinner, good for him.” That’s what we say out loud, while inside we’re green with envy and thinking hostile thoughts like, “Who does this guy think he is? Does he enjoy showing me up or what?”
Why aren’t we more romantic? We don’t like to admit it, but the answer is quite simple: we honestly don’t have a stinking clue. Inside, that smooth guy that woos his bride on a regular basis is what’s called an anomaly. It’s kind of like Lebron James and his athletic prowess: the guy’s simply a freak of nature. Don’t know where he got the genes; he’s just “got it.”
I, for example, don’t “got it.” I am hopelessly unromantic by nature. I come from a long line of unromantic men, and even have a genealogy chart and stories from my grandmother as evidence. It’s not that I haven’t tried to be romantic. I have. And I don’t dare share some of these failures in a public forum, even under the guise of anonymity. Just thinking of those attempts makes me shudder inside.
Unfortunately for me, and for these other 96 percent (God bless them, every one) of men that just can’t shake the insecurity we feel whenever the beat picks up on the dance floor, 100 percent of the female population desire romance. 100 percent. Does God have a nasty sense of humor, or what?
Infertility doesn’t distract or change the desires of our wives, either. Actually, she probably wants romance even more than ever –so this is what my wife tells me. So what do we do?
The answer for me has been tough to accept, but since I am dedicated to loving my wife, I guess I need to step out on a limb and try. Maybe that romantic guy was just like me when he first tried, but when he failed, he picked himself up and tried again.
One of my attempts this year have consisted of buying a book on Kindle called 101 Romantic Ideas. (Hey, stop laughing at me!) One of the ideas, idea #46, to be exact, reads as follows: “Create some love coupons that your partner can exchange for romantic favors.” It then goes on to give some examples. Fearing my unromantic nature, I followed the ideas written out to the T. And guess what? My wife loved it. She even kept the coupons in a safe place to show our kids someday (Oh yeah, that’s right, we can’t have kids. We’ll, anyway…)
She knows I suck at this. But as I keep at it, as I get some more experience, I just might shake this forsaken nature. And even if I don’t, she’ll feel more loved because she knows I’m trying. I suppose that’s more important than my insecurities anyway.
I’ve observed my little nieces prancing back and forth in front of my brother-in-law, wearing their flowery new dress, absolutely glowing with anticipation. “What do you think of my new dress, daddy? What do you think?” I’ve been at church and seen our friend’s daughters faces brighten up when I compliment their little pink and purple frills, ribbons, or buttons. The book For Men Only by Shaunti and Jeff Feldhahn helped remind me this year that little girls are hard-wired to want these compliments. They want to be beautiful.
What I didn’t realize until I read the book is that my wife is still that little girl deep down; she desperately desires the affirmation that she’s still just as beautiful as she was twirling in front of her daddy years ago.
Unfortunately, infertility has asked my wife to down truckloads of meds, shoot up blood thinners, and ram who knows how many meds up, in, and around who knows where, and in unfathomable doses. Let’s just say it’s left her a bit bruised, over-drugged, and in some cases a bit physically taxed.
But interesting enough, although she’s 33, she’s still that little girl twirling in front of her daddy. She’s still crying out, “Do you think I look pretty daddy?” Only now she’s asking me. She would ask me years ago in reference to the heparin shots she took, “these bruises are so disgusting, aren’t they?” I didn’t realize it then, but instead of my disgruntled affirmations, what she really needed to hear was, “yeah you’re a little bruised, but it can’t take anything away from your nice figure and your striking blue eyes.”
The poking and prodding, the meds, and the numerous appointments are one thing. But for whatever reason, my wife’s innate need to be a biological mother, and her absolute inability to fulfill this desire, have made her feel even less attractive. As a man, I don’t naturally make this connection between infertility and beauty. In fact, deep down, in my shallow male frame of reference, the fact that she never carries the extra weight that comes with pregnancy might be a slight advantage. But she does make a connection.
On literally hundreds of occasions, my wife would come home from a treatment, and though I was totally oblivious to it, she would be twirling. “I feel so frumpy.” “This treatment makes me look so fat.” “I feel like I’m gaining too much weight.” With each one of these comments, I should have taken my cue just like the father that sits up straight when his little cutie parades around in the new dress. Sadly, I botched many-a-opportunity to heap such praises on my wife. And I wouldn’t have been lying because I really do think she’s attractive. I just didn’t communicate to her needs like I should have.
Husbands, take advantage of these moments of discomfort and utter insecurity for your wives. Tell her she’s not fat. Take note of how cute she looks in that new dress. Reassure her that her infertility hasn’t touched her cute dimples or striking smile. Heap praises on your wife. I guarantee you she needs it.
I had something of an “aha moment” about two weeks ago.
I usually don’t peruse through the articles in the monthly journal that my company sends us. But for whatever reason, this time I pulled the journal out of our mailbox and flipped through the titles before pushing the elevator button to our third floor apartment. On the way up, the title caught my eye, “That’s not fatigue: dealing with unresolved grief.”
Into the first paragraph, I knew that the author was directing his article to readership just like us. The journal is for expats, and we’re Americans in Spain that have faced an inordinate amount of stress the last few years, mainly because we’ve tacked on the burden of infertility.
Essentially, this psychologist, a specialist in cross-culture stress, said you can either deal with the grief, or you can pretend, stuff and push it aside. You can face reality, or you can grind life out with out really dealing with your pain. Of course, the latter option means you are like a small flame burning on a short wick; slowly but surely snuffing itself out. In contrast, the healthy response implies you recognize wherever you are in the grieving process, and you do whatever you can to move toward acceptance. First you must admit where you are (anger, bargaining, depression, or a mixture of the three) and commit yourself to work through the maze to accept reality.
I read the article out loud to my wife and we talked about how neither of us is really ready to accept never bearing children. We both are somewhere in between anger and depression. In other words, we haven’t properly grieved this loss.
But this is our reality, whether we want it or not and if we don’t deal with our hurts properly, we won’t live the rest of our lives to our full potential. Finishing the final few suggestions of the article, the one aspect we both agree on is that we don’t want to be in our sixties someday, wallowing in our anger and depression: people who’ve never properly dealt with their grief. We’ve met people like that. In fact, we are related to people like that. And that’s not what we want.
So, since it’s not what we want, we have a new challenge ahead of us: to grieve the loss properly and try and recreate ourselves a bit. Hopefully we’ll have more success in recreating ourselves than we did in creating a baby.
I told my wife yesterday that if I didn’t already believe in God, I would at least believe in the existence of a higher power, maybe even a sinister deity, simply on the basis of when the infertility bug has hit us. We’ve been walloped with far too many infertility woes, which have inconveniently interrupted critical life events with pintpoint accuracy. At least for me, statistically improbability leaves bad luck in the lurch and forces me wrestle with the gods of fate, or in my case, the God of the Bible.
Yesterday morning God provided me with yet another inconvenient infertility hiccup that makes me even more of a believer.
I am a minister, and perhaps one of my most important responsibilities is to give a Sunday morning sermon. Even though we’ve been in Madrid almost 3 years, my Spanish lags behind a bit, and so I’ve only just recently launched out with the preaching piece to my ministry. However, now that I am settling in, my evaluations in the first few messages will dictate future responsibilities. In other words, this sermon was important. The last thing I needed was, well, exactly what happened.
So yesterday morning I was set to give the homily at 11:45. At 11:30, my wife scoots by on the way to the restroom. Five minutes later, she slips back in front of me into her seat, shifting her head to the side so as to avoid eye contact. When I finally curl around her bangs and gaze a half second in her eyes, I know instantaneously what’s happened. “Oh God, her period started. This is way too early!” Early as it was, I know how to read my wife and I knew that I was right.
So two minutes before I step up to a podium in an attempt out a rousing message on human depravity, I am expending all emotional energy on trying to ease my own sadness and my poor wife’s disappointment over failed embryo transfer #3. Unfortunately, I know my sermon isn’t going to be good enough to distract either of us from this.
The sad thing is my consolation doesn’t mean that much right now anyway. This is our third and possibly final embryo transfer, because the funds for more transfers are about as depleted as our hopes.
But alas, the show must go on; just like it had to go on when our first miscarriage overlapped with my graduation from graduate school; just like it had to when our second miscarriage blindsided us the very day we were appointed by the church to come to Spain; just like it had to go on when our third miscarriage arrived on the heels of sacrificing everything, saying goodbye to friends and family, and landing in Spain (two weeks in!); just like it had to go on when our fourth miscarriage occurred in the throws of culture shock and sucked the final glimmer of hope from my wife’s eyes for ever having biological children; just like it had to go on when the first two failed embryo transfers caused us to age 5 years in a six month span.
Instead of believing in a sinister god or some other foolishness, I’d prefer to just ask the real God a few questions right now. For example,
“What profit is there in taking my hopes and dreams,
in my descending into the depths of emotional pain?
Can an absolutely devastated man and woman really praise you?
Can they declare your loyalty?”
I give credit to David for helping me formulate this particular query. I figure since God is big enough to choreograph this living hell that my wife and I like to call infertility, He’s big enough to take in the question.