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Yes, I’m Really Infertile

This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series National Infertility Awareness Week

On August 22, 2009, I wrote:

Chris and I are hyper-aware of big, swollen bellies these days. At our best, it makes us feel hopeful, and excited about how it will be one day when it’s our turn. At our worst, the sighting is a personal affrontage that touches off a jealous dissection of how unfair it all really is. Recently, we went to Red Lobster for dinner and had a front-row seat to a pregnancy parade. “You’re just looking for it,” he chided me after I pointed out two ladies-in-waiting strolling through the restaurant to their tables. He was dumbstruck when four more pregnant women walked by our table in the 45 minutes it took to finish our meal.  We left feeling unsettled. Not mad, sad or annoyed. Just deflated, I guess. And overstuffed from all those damn cheese biscuits.

It happened again at Qdoba last night. This time, though, it was just the one pregnant woman. “They’re mocking us,” Chris said, half-joking and pointing over his shoulder to the happy, happy family with the happy, happy toddler girl picking at a cookie and happy daddy feeding happy pregnant mommy a bite of taco salad.

I’ve been wanting to get pregnant long enough that I have almost forgotten what we’re trying to achieve. I’ve been singularly focused on a positive pregnancy test, not even really thinking of the pregnancy itself: how that will look and feel, the anticipation as the baby grows inside, choosing a name. We’re just trying to get our foot in the door with the test.

Each month we go through the motions…wait, that’s a lie. We’ve been WORKING at it with a combination of low-tech metrics (temperature charting, lots of peeing on and in various items) and the best that advanced medicine can offer me right now (stupid Clomid). Thirteen months of trying with one miscarriage and way too many dollars spent on ovulation kits, vitamins, co-pays and meds brings us to an impasse. We’re taking a break for a little while. I’m going to turn off my body awareness (as much as I can), and we’re just going to be our regular selves for a couple months.

Wait, are you sure you’re infertile?

Yup. And I am definitely not alone. According to Resolve, 1 in 8 women receives fertility treatment during her lifetime. Twelve percent of married women (more than 1 in 10) experience difficulty conceiving or maintaining a pregnancy.

Interestingly, female trouble only accounts for the fertility issues in a third of cases. Another one-third is due to male factors, and the other third is completely unexplained. My husband and I are lucky enough to know the cause, and it’s on my side (a story for another time).

You’re not infertile – you’re young!

Maybe, maybe not. I may be of advanced maternal age now (35 and up for my fellow oldies), but we started seeking help when we were 31. As more and more of us delay starting families until our late 20s and early 30s, plenty of us are in this boat. In fact, a couple ages 29-33 with a normal functioning reproductive system together has only a 20-25% chance of conceiving in any given month, says the National Women’s Health Resource Center. Incredible, right?! Definitely not the impression I was given in sex ed as a high-schooler…

Well, have you tried herbs/acupuncture/different positions/Taking Charge of Your Fertility/relaxing about it/praying about it/getting away with your husband/not eating sugarwheatdairygrainsmeat/etc.?

Oh, yes – and unfortunately, many diagnosed fertility issues are beyond that. Making positive changes to your overall health can only be good, but they may not be fertility cures. After walking this path for awhile now, I believe that some of these suggestions can be downright depressing, by overemphasizing your capability to will your body to conceive. I found it really discouraging to feel like it was all up to me to “fix” it, and that I clearly must be messing up something that was happening so easily for other women.

But you already have a child.

We sure do – and she’s truly a miracle child (another story for another time). It’s true that infertility is a disease, but it is also treatable for many, many women.

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The ever-elusive positive pregnancy test.

Have you thought about adoption?

Of course! Whose heart hasn’t been touched by the many children around the world in need of loving forever homes? That is an admirable, fulfilling journey, but it is not the same journey as struggling to conceive. Whole other ballpark, actually. On another planet.

Be happy you have one healthy child.

We absolutely are; so much so, that we keep pursuing our dream of growing our family, despite the decreased odds and increased risks. This does not diminish one bit the love, attention and nurturing that we lavish on our daughter. We are acutely aware that her presence in our family is a gift, and we cherish her all the more because of that.

That sucks. I’m so glad I don’t have to worry about that.

And I hope you never do. But know that secondary infertility is also fairly common, and that can be even more isolating for parents. According to Resolve, “couples with secondary infertility tend to receive less social support from others than couples who have primary infertility because the infertility is unacknowledged, the pain associated with infertility is invisible as the couple has a child, and there is no concrete loss in the family. In addition, couples experiencing secondary infertility may be recipients of criticism by others who think they should be grateful for one child and that it is foolish to go to extremes to increase family size. Of course, a couple can be extraordinarily thankful for their existing child and still long for more children.”

Unfortunately, conceiving and having one baby doesn’t cure infertility. So if this is you, reach out beyond your partner and family for help. There seems to be a lack of options for local support groups, but you can turn to forums and boards on iVillage, BabyCenter and others for understanding and sympathy.

Okay, now you’ve totally freaked me out about my fertility.

Awww, don’t be freaked out – but don’t wait, either. According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, you should seek help if you are under 35 and unable to achieve pregnancy after 12 months of unprotected intercourse (after six months if you’re 35 and up). You should also seek special care if you have had more than one miscarriage. And any time your gut is telling you that something is off – just go see someone, regardless of these guidelines.

There are so many great OB-GYNs locally who can help patients overcome fertility issues, but your best bet may be in the care of a specialist, like the Nevada Center for Reproductive Medicine. Since they focus solely on diagnosing and addressing infertility, they have the bandwidth and resources to provide highly individualized care.

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About Annie McFarland

Annie McFarland
Happily married to her former neighbor, Annie is mom to three kids age four and under. She (mostly) balances life at home with working full-time in brand and media licensing. Off the clock, you can find Annie on the couch with her nose in a book (or pressed up against the Kindle), thinking about maybe doing some scrapbooking, or listening to NPR podcasts (she's what you call "indoorsy"). If it's football season, she will faithfully support her Southern husband by cheering on the Auburn Tigers and Atlanta Falcons.

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