My husband and I had been trying to conceive for 17 months when I finally said something to my doctor. We were deliberately trying by hitting a three-day window each month. Considering we were in our mid-twenties, very healthy, and 99.9% sure we had the logistics down pat, it didn’t make sense that we hadn’t gotten anywhere close to pregnant in all of that time.
We watched our siblings have babies and seemingly everyone else we knew start a family, we were living in an “always the bridesmaid, never the bride” Groundhogs Day loop. I was at all of the baby showers cooing over handmade quilts from grandma and stuffing myself with blue- or pink-dyed cupcakes, all the while screaming inside “Why me?”.
Why didn’t I get a baby? Why did people too young, too unfit, too irresponsible, too fertile for their own good get to have a baby…and not me? Why did this happen to me? There’s nothing fair or reasonable about infertility. It just happens.
I didn’t belabor the point, though. It didn’t consume me, turn me bitter, make me jealous, or fill me with anger. Sure, I was disappointed but we made an active effort to make our infertility experience a positive one. That doesn’t mean I didn’t feel isolated and lonely. Every time someone wanted to nose in and ask “Why haven’t you two had a baby yet?” or recommend that “we just have a little patience,” I just thought to myself “Why don’t you understand?”. The reality is, most people don’t.
Unless you’re living through it yourself, no one really “gets” it. That may very well be the most trying part. If only there were a billboard that followed you around that read: Know that infertility can be devastating. It forces the wind out of your core and gives little back. It can poke holes in that part of your heart that hopes and dreams. It makes you question everything about yourself, what you did wrong, or how you could have changed something. It’s completely irrational.
Our doctor was floored when I told him how long we’d been trying. He said our first act was to determine if I was even ovulating. This required taking my temperature orally every single morning for four months. (Where was Priya Ring back then!) I charted the temperature on a little graph, watching the climbs and dives week over week. Nothing on that paper meant anything to me, except that my own anxiety convinced me there was something terribly wrong with my body.
Four months later, 21 months after we’d started TTC, the doctor reviewed my chart. In less than 30 seconds he determined that I ovulated like someone who had committed their life’s work to ovulating. I was a supreme ovulating champion.
The doctor turned to my husband and said it was time for him to be tested. That is a hilarious story that involves an elevator, a nun, and a small child that I will save for another time. But the point is, it was finally his turn to be tested after all of this time.
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The call that came from the doctor a few days later shifted the trajectory of our lives. “The lab called and asked if this was a post-vasectomy sample,” noted our doctor. It’s a sentence that is etched into the fibers of my memory.
The question came because there were no sperm in the cup. The sample was void of sperm. Spermless. Sans sperm. No single-celled organisms from a male were present.
That led us, or rather him, through a series of tests, exams, and specialists who ultimately determined he had a congenital absence of the vas deferens. The tube that would eject sperm from the testicles was nothing more than a flat piece of tissue. Long story short, some five years later we’d do IVF and deliver a healthy baby girl.
My go-to advice for anyone starting to embark on a fertility journey is to have your man tested first. This is a simple, painless, moderately humiliating but very rewarding test that costs about $10. What happens is that in a matter of minutes, you may be able to completely rule out the male as the problem source. Or, you may raise the exact flag needed to start examinations, treatments, and planning that may have gone unknown for far too long.
Sure, I’d have still needed to monitor my ovulation and likely gone through some of the other tests to make sure there wasn’t a double whammy hiding beneath the surface. But if I’d known then what I know now, we could have moved ten steps forward a lot sooner.
My daughter ended up being born on her daddy’s birthday during infertility awareness week — her timing was kind of impeccable. That’s what I’ve come to expect from my #ScienceBaby, though! What I couldn’t even imagine at the time is that with all the trials I was put through-it turned out to be the most rewarding journey I ever took.
Brandi Koskie is a guest contributor for National Infertility Awareness Week, sharing experience as the founder of the web’s first infertility fundraising site, BabyOrBust.com. She is also the co-founder and content strategist for Clover Partners, an interactive studio in Denver and Oklahoma City.