I still have hope. It’s really hard to let go.
I’m about to celebrate my 40th birthday and I’ve been trying to have a baby for 17 years.
Is it time to give up, to take a different path?
Growing up in a big family, I had always dreamed of being a mom. Memories of playing house with my cousins make me smile, but in the next moment brings tears to my eyes.
I had never imagined my journey of getting pregnant to be the emotional rollercoaster and struggle it has been.
I remember the night we started trying like it was yesterday. I started crying because that was it—I was going to get pregnant, have a baby, and be responsible for another human being for the rest of my life. At the young age of 23 it was a lot to comprehend. We were excited, in our early twenties, and had no clue what the years ahead would bring.
Before we started trying I had scheduled an annual exam. The day of the exam the OB said, “You are too young and should consider contraceptives and weight loss instead of conceiving a child.”
I was shocked. I had never experienced anything like it before. I was young and vulnerable. I trusted doctors and valued their opinions. Why was the doctor so blunt and unable to talk through the situation with me to guide me? I felt ashamed and never went back to that clinic again.
It was that visit that made my vow to be an advocate for myself and other women.
Almost a year into trying to conceive I feared we had a problem.
I had been tracking my temperature and cervical mucus and using ovulation kits with no obvious signs of trouble. I had read enough books and watched enough relationship series on TLC to know that there was this thing called “infertility.” I had watched a show that featured a couple picking up an at-home sperm test so I went to the pharmacy and grabbed that test. (Little did we know that it would be my husband’s first of many “get the semen into the small cup” experiments.) After ten minutes, I read the test result, which indicated his count was below average.
A few months later a urologist confirmed that we had male-factor infertility and that the only way we could conceive would be through Artificial Reproductive Technology (ART). The doctor referred us to a Reproductive Endocrinologist (RE).
We couldn’t believe it. My heart was so heavy for my husband. In a family full of fertile people—why us? At one point in our conversations he said that if we didn’t get pregnant he would understand if I couldn’t stay in the marriage.
It was hard for him to say this, of course. To be diagnosed with low sperm count was not only a blow to his ego; it was much deeper. He kept thinking he would never be able to have a legacy, produce an heir, continue his family name. See a little person that resembled us walking on this earth. It was really hard for him to talk about. He felt he was letting me down, letting is family down. He often wouldn’t talk about the hard truth. It felt better to ignore it, pretending nothing was wrong than dealing with it.
He said that if we didn’t get pregnant he would understand if I couldn’t stay in the marriage. It was hard for him to say this, of course. To be diagnosed with low sperm count was not only a blow to his ego; it was much deeper. He kept thinking he would never be able to have a legacy, produce an heir, continue his family name.
But when he said he would understand my leaving him, it was because he knew how much I wanted to be a mom. When he was growing up he remembered people talking about a woman not being able to conceive and the man leaving her. He thought it would be natural for me to leave him.
I didn’t. We talked about what our options were and both agreed to move forward with IVF. We remained young and optimistic. We kept trying.
Once we started working with the RE, to cover the bases I was given the full workup. They didn’t find anything wrong.
About 10 years into trying, after two failed IVF cycles and one natural pregnancy that ended in a miscarriage, my husband said he was done trying.
I was driving us home that day and through the tears in my eyes and rage in my heart all I wanted to do was drive off the road and scream. How could he even say that? How did he think it was OK to just decide and not discuss it with me first?
This point in our marriage was one of the hardest. We were angry and upset. We fought about every little thing, which all tied back to our trying to start a family. It took a lot of hard conversations and therapy to move forward. Therapy helped us communicate more openly and made us both realize that we wanted the same thing and both felt like we failed one another. After so many years of trying to conceive, we had forgotten about “us” and what we needed as a couple. We had lost sight of intimacy and start resenting one another.
We made a pact to keep communication open and always strive to maintain the feeling of love and romance toward one another. We both agree that our marriage has been better each day since then. When we miscarried again in 2019 we were tested again, and we came out even stronger.
Even though we have been officially diagnosed with male-factor infertility, I kept trying to find something wrong with me. Instead of believing our diagnosis I started thinking that maybe those that had said, “Maybe you have PCOS—you are overweight—and my ‘so and so’ lost X pounds and got pregnant” were right.
Blaming myself felt better than not finding an answer. In these situations, doctors continue to test the women partners to rule anything else out. Because of women’s long history of being blamed as barren, it can be hard to overcome the emotional toll of this conjecture.
Hoping science would continue to improve the longer we stayed committed, we did more testing.
In spring 2020 I was diagnosed with Factor IV Leiden, a blood clotting disorder. Besides having a higher BMI than a fertility doctor would like to see, there is still nothing else that points to my having a problem. Curvy women get pregnant all the time. A fixation on weight is another piece of the fertility world that has always stuck with me—my weight being the factor of why I wasn’t getting pregnant.
A few doctors, before testing, stated that I most likely had PCOS. In the blood work and ultrasounds I have had in the past 17 years nothing has proved that theory.
However, three IVF cycles and two miscarriages later we are still child-free and I still have so many emotions. I feel like I have failed as a woman. I feel like my body has failed me. I feel like my husband’s body has failed him. Something I was biologically born to do, I have not been able to, yet I still have this determination to prove to the gods and the universe that it will happen. I have no answers as to why it hasn’t worked. It has been so frustrating and has increased my desire to find more answers. Not just for me, but for others on the same path.
For the past 17 years I have tried to accomplish my goal of becoming a mom. It has been a long journey, but I have learned so much along the way. I have gotten used to negative pregnancy tests, and with being added to yet another infertility statistic with every step we take. I say that jokingly, because if I was unable to laugh at things I have been through, I might cry and end up numb and stoic.
Instead, I am grateful for the positive things that have come out of my experiences. I may never have gotten involved with RESOLVE or started a support group in 2010, and I may not have met all the brave women I know today. I wouldn’t have traveled to Canada and Mexico for treatment and gotten to know different cultures, both popular and medical. Heck, I wouldn’t have written a book with another warrior filled with so many important, personal stories. That has felt like the silver lining to my journey.
So now…where do we go from here? Should we give up and choose to continue to live child-free or should we use the hope we have for energy toward another IVF cycle?
If we choose to live child-free we both agree that we would go back to our therapist, to walk through what this path would look like. Many have said we should just forget about kids and move on, that we could travel and enjoy life, that we have enough nieces and nephews. Although this option seems intriguing to some, my version of traveling and enjoying life was with my husband and our children. I adore my nieces and nephews, but they have their parents. It is not the same and only those in our shoes can truly understand.
If we choose to move forward with another IVF cycle we would want to make sure that we follow the best plan. Do I finally make that appointment a reproductive immunologist to ensure there are no autoimmune issues that we are not aware of that could have caused our three miscarriages?
Even though we have done a lot of recurrent pregnancy loss testing, maybe there will be a new discovery?
I continue to consult with our RE and other specialists. What supplements should we take and what protocols should we be on? Should we do a back-to-back stim cycle to bank embryos? It’s hard not to think about every possibility.
I am forty years old and, looking back, would never have imagined that we would be child-free with two dogs.
I cannot help but think there is a reason why I still have so much hope and desire. That I would put my body through more injections and blood draws and dates with “Wanda.”
Every time a woman chooses to endure yet another IVF cycle, in my opinion, is heroic.
Despite what it takes, letting go and moving on seems like a huge mountain that I don’t have the energy to climb.
Every time a woman chooses to endure yet another IVF cycle, in my opinion, is heroic. Despite what it takes, letting go and moving on seems like a huge mountain that I don’t have the energy to climb.
Whatever I decide, I know my husband is by my side. If I crumbled and lost hope, my husband would make this all come to a screeching halt. He guards and protects me and doesn’t like seeing me down. He feels that it isn’t fair I have to go through so much when the main diagnosis is low sperm count.
Ultimately, we both want this to happen – that is what keeps us both brave and hopeful.
Daniella (Jaros) Virijevic is an advocate for women and infertility and the coauthor of The Infertility Doula—A Friendly Guide for When It’s Hard to Get Pregnant. She is a teta/choka/auntie/tia to many she loves with her whole heart. She lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota, with her husband, Djordje, and two Shih Tzus, Jack and Teddi.
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