I sat down three times to write this essay. The minute my fingers grazed the keyboard, our two year old would interrupt me. She, in short order, asked for a snack, to watch “shows,” and for my wobbly rendition of “You are My Sunshine.” She is an amazing little human and I adore her. By now, you’ve figured out this fertility story has a happy ending. Magnolia Ruth is a loving, joyful little girl. However, the road to her conception and birth was anything but joyful.
Lisa and I didn’t really have a fertility problem, unless you consider not having our own sperm “infertility.” We sought the help of a fertility clinic and its catalogue of potential donors. We conceived our first child, Frances, after just a few months of trying. We were lucky.
The second time around, we were six years older, but filled with hubris. We assumed that we would waltz into the clinic and 40 weeks later we would have a baby. Lisa began her nearly daily visits to the fertility clinic for blood tests, ovulation monitoring, ultrasounds, and consultations. We hit the catalogues again, trying to find a donor with similar features to our first child. Lisa became pregnant on the first try. We were ecstatic.
The next few weeks were followed by visits to the clinic where my wife was poked, prodded, and herded into the ultrasound room every two to three days. Things were progressing normally. The embryo was growing; hormone levels were healthy. We were so at ease, I stopped going to the clinic with her. I’d call and catch up on the morning. She would regale me with funny stories about the gorgeous ultrasound technician who would compliment her shoes, while she was laying down, spread-eagle. Or how the technician would make small talk while she waved the vaginal ultrasound wand in the air. We were giddy at the thought of revealing our happy news.
The last day at the fertility clinic is a long one; it’s called graduation day. A number of tests are done and you meet with the doctor before the care of you and the baby can be transferred to a midwife or obstetrician. It’s a big day. You say your goodbyes and leave behind the grueling monitoring schedule. But it’s a good day because it means your baby is healthy and you can move forward. All along, Lisa had been getting ultrasound pictures for me. I kept them in a secret folder in my office drawer. While having our last examination, I joked about twins, and asked for a copy of the last screen. Our usually gregarious technician quietly refused. She said simply that the doctor would speak to us.
The doctor looked right at me and politely said: “Have you considered having a baby?” I laughed.
Within seconds the room shrank and emptied of air. Lisa began to cry. I tried to reassure her. Nothing prepared us for what happened next. We sat with our doctor, who began with: “Sorry, the baby has no heartbeat….”. For a few minutes, I could only hear pounding in my ears. We had been so sure, so cocky. I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach.
We were scheduled for a D&C that afternoon. That’s when the cervix is dilated and scraped clean by the doctor. Lisa would suffer not only the loss of the baby, but also a procedure that would leave her feeling physically torn apart. I tried to joke with her. I tried to make her smile. I tried to comfort her. I failed her. I sat quietly holding her hand. The worst part – no one in our social circle knew what was happening. No one else would understand our profound loss, because they didn’t know that a baby had been developing. It was crushing that we had to endure this alone.
As the weeks passed, I thought Lisa was recovering. She was anxious to start the process over. I supported her. A few months later the routine began again. Only we didn’t get pregnant the next round or the round after that. We tried for six months, then seven months. The constant monitoring started to disrupt family trips and weekend plans. We began to bicker. I lost faith in the process. I lost faith in her ability to conceive again. We looked into adoption. We attended a meeting or two. We were spending a lot of money and nothing was happening.
Nearly eight months after losing the baby, we met with the doctor. We told her that we were both tired and losing sight of why we had started the process in the first place.
This is when the doctor looked right at me and politely said:
“Have you considered having a baby?”
I laughed. Actually, no, I had never thought of having a baby. I have a partial thyroid, colitis, and a genetic disposition for all sorts of crappy diseases. I also wear sweater vests and bow ties. Though I don’t identify as “butch,” I certainly don’t identify as “femme” either. I’ve seen first hand how strangers feel free to comment on pregnant bodies. I loathed the idea of being touched and commented on. Pregnancy is about the least inconspicuous thing that can happen to a woman’s body. I thought of myself as a terrible candidate. Lisa was also skeptical given my chronic, (though not life-threatening) health issues.
Even with our hesitation, it was suggested that we try a fairly new fertility test to evaluate our potential for conception. The other option was an expensive round of IVF. We opted for the test. We were both 39 years old and this was the first time anyone had suggested that we evaluate our egg supply. I was actually a little curious.
The next day we each had blood drawn for the protein AMH. This would indicate a sense of our ovarian reserve. The results were back quickly. Lisa was virtually perimenopausal, while I had the ovarian reserve of a 27 year old. The doctor, ever pragmatic, said we should give my ovaries a shot. This was not something I could have ever predicted. Lisa was also surprised, even shocked. The news meant that she was unlikely to get pregnant without major cost and intervention. Even then, there would be no guarantee of a successful pregnancy.
Moving forward wasn’t that easy. Lisa was attached to the idea of carrying a baby. She loved being pregnant. She really had never looked as happy and healthy as she was when carrying Frances. She was a perfect pregnant lady: she was never sick, and had lots of energy and an appetite for exotic foods. My potential pregnancy meant grieving all over again for her. First, it was the loss of a baby. Now she was facing the reality that she would not likely ever carry another baby. We talked about egg harvesting. We talked about IVF. We talked about adopting through Children’s Aid. But we avoided the elephant in the room; my intact womb and ovaries primed for baby-making.
During a four-hour drive to my brother’s cottage, I told her it made sense for me to try to have the baby. It was the cheapest option, I argued. She tearfully agreed. I would give it a single try. If it was meant to be, it would happen. I knew deep down that she was not one hundred percent on board. I knew she was still hurting. I thought, however, that if I could give us a baby, she’d forget it all.
I began at the clinic right away. I would bring our daughter Frances with me before school and she’d watch me give blood and get ultrasounds. I became friends with the early morning security guard, bringing her a coffee on my monitoring days. She called Frances my “partner in crime.”
I took the morning off the day I was being inseminated. I went alone. I knew that it would be too hard for Lisa to be there, but I wished she had been. I was nervous. When I had to sign for the specimen, I had to confirm the donor number, and began second guessing myself. I kept imagining I got the digits wrong. I panicked, thinking I would mess it up. The insemination itself was simple and fast. I headed to work afterward.
During this time, I didn’t tell a soul that I was trying to get pregnant. I had been a sickly person and people at work assumed I had some sort of chronic ailment that required a lot of clinic visits. Two weeks after the insemination I got a call. I was standing outside the pharmacy after picking up children’s gravol (an anti-nausea med). I was pregnant. My hormone levels were great. I needed to come in on Monday morning for further testing.
The next 37 weeks were filled with much anxiety, nausea, vomiting, heartburn, extreme fatigue, and malaise. I threw up at least twice a day for months and months. This made me a big hit in the newsroom I worked in at the time. Friends were surprised and very supportive, bringing me Gatorade and ginger candies.
Lisa was extremely cautious in her excitement. I named the embryo Shlomo. I hoped naming it would help create a connection. When we found out we were having a girl, I renamed her Shlomit. We paid for expensive additional testing. Everything came back normal. I continued to barf, and Lisa continued to tread cautiously. I felt sickly, tired, and terrified. I really felt like I had the weight of the world in my uterus; everything was riding on Shlomit.
Ten days before my due date, I felt really unwell. Lisa was reluctant to rush home, thinking I was once again having “false labor.” To her point, for several months before that I was sure I was in labor at least three times a week. This time it felt different. She came home just in time to receive our dining room chair delivery…and take me to the hospital.
After fourteen hours, Maggie was born. Forty-plus stitches later, I was exhausted, sore, and a little cranky; I didn’t hold Maggie at first; Lisa did. She covered Maggie’s misshapen little head, and counted her fingers and toes. She kissed her and talked to her. She gave her a bath while I napped. I glanced across my room at the two of them and they already seemed to be bonding deeply. Lisa had fallen in love with her from the second she arrived, all red and squirmy.
Two years have passed and I am amazed at the gifts I have been given. I have an incredible wife who is also the most nurturing and loving mother. Our road to parenthood was rocky, but worth it. We learned a great deal about one another during the process. I learned to listen more and react less. I think Lisa learned to embrace the uncertainties of life. We have two girls who fill our days with noise, play, laughter…and constant disruptions. I couldn’t imagine it any other way.
Victoria Stacey has spent the last fifteen years in broadcast media, covering domestic and international stories. She is currently working on a book about Canada’s first Jewish settlers. When she isn’t teaching or writing, she can be found DJing kid’s parties. You can follow her on twitter @VictoriaAStacey
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