This post was inspired by questions and comments I’ve been receiving from astute readers who have picked up on some of my wording in posts about our boys. Yes, our first son is the product of fertility treatments. I am not a medical professional or an expert on polycystic ovary syndrome; I’m just a girl who needed the loving care of her OBGYN to be able to realize her dream of having biological children. We rode the fertility roller coaster for nearly two years before getting those precious two lines on the stick. This post could never capture what those two years were like, but it does capture some of the raw emotions and motivation for staying on that hellish ride as long as we did. In the most trying moments of being parents, my husband and I lock eyes and smile; we are beyond blessed to have these boys, and we never forget it.
I had wanted to be a mother from the first time I held a Cabbage Patch Kid. My friends and I used to put the “babies” up under our shirts, take turns lying down on the bed while the other friend pulled the baby out from under our shirt, and rock and carry those dolls until they were cruddy and crusty. I remember having the knock-off Barbie that came with both a maternity shirt and a regular shirt and two babies that you could put up under her shirt, too. I never got into babysitting because I didn’t care too much for other people’s children, at least not those that I wasn’t related to, but I bought a rocking chair when I was sixteen and would sit and rock and dream about the boy I would meet that would become the daddy of a baby that I could rock in that same chair.
Then my first ovarian cyst ruptured. We didn’t know what happened; I was fine one minute and then passed out in my parents’ hallway the next. I had never felt so much pain in my life, but the pain didn’t seem to be in the correct spot for it to be appendicitis. My mom rushed me to a hospital and the doctor kept grilling me about the possibility of being pregnant. Nope. Hadn’t met that boy yet – you know, the one I dreamt about while rocking lazily in the chair. I had my first ultrasound that night, and little did I know that I would later become an expert in reading those ultrasounds. That was an unpleasant experience, which may become the subject of a What the Hell? at some point, but for now, those gory details are best left to the imagination.
Anyway, one year and one day later, my second ovarian cyst ruptured and I was scared to death. I was seventeen years old, seeing my OBGYN for the umpteenth time in my short reproductive life, and asking whether or not I’d be able to have children. Now, this man is a saint in our family because he has seen my grandmother through both ovarian and breast cancer, and we already had developed a very trusting relationship. He grabbed my hands in his cold, fleshy ones (why are OBGYN’s hands always so damn cold?), looked me square in the eye, and said we’d worry about that when the time came. My heart sank. This man always had been straightforward with me, and that was the first time I ever had heard a vague answer from him. I was scared. And sad. Those dream babies already were slipping away, and I hadn’t even finished high school or met my future husband.
Fast-forward to college graduate, wife, and homeowner who had desperately talked her reluctant husband into trying to start a family. I’m sitting in the same OBGYN’s office because I had been off birth control and trying to get pregnant for a year, and I wasn’t even menstruating. Trying so bravely to hold back the tears, I asked him that same old question I had been asking once a year for ten years: Do you think I can have children? And then hearing that tired answer: We’ll see when the time comes. The time had, in fact, come.
I wasn’t menstruating. I wasn’t ovulating. Nothing about my stupid lady parts was working. I was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and I had to take medication to menstruate, then I had to take medication to help stimulate ovulation, and then I had to get an injection to help the egg to mature and actually release. I was having ultrasounds twice a week. My school nurse give me the shot, my husband’s aunt gave me the shot, and nurses in my OBGYN’s office gave me the shot. The drug was damn near impossible to find. I remember sitting in a restaurant with my mother, a phonebook between us, calling every pharmacy in a 50-mile radius. More than once. I was a holy mess of hormones and anxiety and I wasn’t even to the heavy-duty drugs yet.
When I couldn’t stand it anymore, I started ordering the nursery necessities. I think I worried my mother and my husband; this had Lifetime movie written all over it. I painted the walls, I ironed and hung curtains, I measured and decorated with wall hangings, and I sat in that damn rocking chair holding a teddy bear, crying my heart out. Every night while my husband was at work, I sat in that chair, asking God for a baby. I tried reasoning with Him because it wasn’t fair that He had instilled such a maternal instinct in me that my friends had teased me about being the “mother” of the group because I always had the tissues and the lip balm, and my middle-school students called me “Mom” because I always had tampons and cough drops and Band-Aids in my desk. Begging Him to give us just one baby and I would be happy.
Accepting the fact that I may never be the mother I had always wanted to be was not an option; yet, I told my husband that he might want to leave me because I couldn’t bear a child. He said he married me, not our future children, but I felt guilty and somehow like less of a woman because I couldn’t get pregnant.
Then the bomb dropped. I couldn’t even get an injection one month because the cysts were so large I was in danger of having a ruptured ovary. I broke down in the doctor’s office and the poor nurse had no idea how to console me. I wrote the check for the office visit with blurred vision and apologized for handing the receptionist a soggy check. I sat in the lobby and cried until people getting out of the elevator had looks of true concern on their faces.
That was a very dark “What the Hell?” I knew of infertile women who had been trying to conceive for years. At that point, we were sixteen months into the fertility treatments. I knew there were women who were undergoing IVF who were losing embryos monthly. I knew there were women whose husbands were giving them shots in their stomachs and who were even administering their own injections. I knew there were women desperately seeking surrogates. And, I was sitting in the lobby crying my eyes out and feeling guilt, pity, and defeat… but mostly feeling empty inside.
This went on for months before something felt different. I left that office after my OBGYN was the one to give me the injection. It was the one and only time he administered it himself, and I remember he patted my hip and said, “This one will work.”
I was staring at four positive home pregnancy tests two weeks later. What the Hell?
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