JulieLeung.com: a life told in tidepools

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January 29th, 2004 · 3 Comments

Wink has been writing a series of posts describing how he and his wife, Tree, discovered their infertility. From post #2 in the series:

I balked. No. I hadn’t even accepted that the test results weren’t just a big typo. I certainly wasn’t going to start making plans yet. But Tree had already thought all of this through and was raring to go ahead. I was caught completely flat-footed and Tree, the consummate planner, was launching a contingency plan that she had put into place over a decade earlier.

So within hours of opening the test results, Tree was asking me why I didn’t want to adopt. I kept replying that adoption wasn’t the issue yet, and that I just wanted to get retested first.

There were a lot of tears that night, and for the next few nights.

“You’ll never know until you try” is true for fertility, and, with modern medicine’s innovations, many couples don’t know whether they can have kids until they put away the prophylactics. It is then that painful discovery can occur.

Like Tree, as a child I had already prepared myself for the possibility of being childless. At sixteen a doctor told me that I might have problems getting pregnant. So, for a while, I didn’t plan on motherhood or even marriage. But when Ted and I started talking about living our lives together, I made sure he knew we might be childless. He was still willing to take that risk and marry me.

Sure enough, once we started “trying”, nothing was happening. It was pretty clear the problem belonged to my body. That’s a lot of guilt to bring into a relationship. I knew Ted loved me so I didn’t think he’d want to divorce me over it, but I could see how many couples split up. The agony of knowing I was denying my husband the ability to have children: my body was to blame. It was all my fault.

The social pain was incredible for me. People’d ask “so when are you having kids?” They’d ask it casually, off the cuff, the same way they’d talk about the weather or the color of the carpet. I can still remember one question, asked loudly: “You’ve been married 5 years and you don’t have any kids yet?!” Maybe it just seemed loud to my ears. Even questions about why I didn’t want to drink wine were awkward to answer.

I never knew what to say. I didn’t want to talk about it at all. What do you do: begin crying at a cocktail party? I’d try to mumble something polite, pleasant and bland – and stay calm, at least until I got home. The world was full of babies and our arms – my womb – were empty. Friends would tell me of “surprises”, unplanned pregnancies, and I’d try to be happy for them. I tried.

While I’m thankful for modern medicine and infertility treatments, I’ll say that they are incredibly inconvenient. The amount of monitoring is intense, due to the procedures and possibility of multiple births. But there are only so many lunch hour trips you can take to see your doctor before your employer begins to figure out what’s happening. I was grateful that I was only working part-time and that I had the flexibility to lose hours at work. If I had been a factory worker punching in and out, on the clock from 9 to 5, I wouldn’t have had the time, flexibility or resources to get treatment.

Then too there’s the exposure and embarrassment. Doctors asking you intimate questions and exploring all areas of your anatomy. Sometimes I couldn’t remember the answers, and that was embarrassing. I learned a lot about myself and my own body. I’d never seen my ovaries before and soon I had plenty of pictures of them, enough for a scrapbook, black and white shapes on the ultrasound screen.

The most painful medical procedure I’ve ever experienced (to date) has been hysterosalpinogram. It wasn’t just the tight clamp deep inside me, as I lay there nearly naked before a bunch of strangers injecting dye into my reproductive tract, but also the feelings afterwards, the wondering “why?” and “what next?”

I took high dosages of fertility drugs. Clomid blurred my night vision into nightmares so I couldn’t drive in the dark. I’d wake with hot flashes in the middle of the night, and have to get up, unable to sleep, an infertile insomniac. I didn’t feel I could tell my employer why I was so tired during the days. I felt too that I had fastforwarded an entire stage of my reproductive life, skipping straight to menopause.

It didn’t seem fair at all. To think of all the babies being born whose parents didn’t want them, and here I was doing my damndest, Ted and I opening up our most intimate moments for medical inspection. To think of abortion, adoption, and the “accidents” that happen in families. Yet we couldn’t even get pregnant once. God had some different ideas about justice than I did.

I remember driving samples of bodily substances to the clinic for testing, taking tubes for a ride in the backseat where the baby wasn’t sitting. Or driving myself to the clinic for bloodwork, hoping for a high hCG result. Crying when the phone call would come that the Clomid cycle once again had failed.

Our love life became dictated by drugs. I was envious and exhausted. Desperate.

It felt like looking through a nursery window at all the babies, at the parents coming in to pick them up, but being stuck there, on the outside, pressed up against the glass, waiting for that door to open.

I didn’t think it would open. I bought a futon sofa to put in the spare bedroom so the emptiness of it wouldn’t haunt me. Guests could sleep there even if babies never would. I started taking classes and planning the next steps for my career.

And I don’t know why we got pregnant. I don’t know why it happened to Ted and me, and not to Wink and Tree. Sure scientists and doctors could come up with some medical explanations. Others might be able to talk about God’s plans and purposes. All true. But they don’t explain away the questions or the pain.

I can’t even say to Wink and Tree: “I understand how you feel.” Because I don’t. I’ve had three kids. Three more than I ever imagined – and two of them without any medical help at all. I’ve become the woman I once envied. It’s been strange for me to experience. Still I remember a little what it was like to be on the other side.

I don’t know why God does what He does. But I still pray. And I pray for Wink and Tree. Yet I don’t have any wise words or easy answers: I don’t have much to say.

But what I can say, from where I stand, reading your story, Wink and Tree, is that I see you crying.
And from where I am, on this side of the glass, I weep with you.

Tags: motherhood

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 wink ;) // Jan 30, 2004 at 2:50 am


    Want a preview of what upcoming infertility posts will look like? Read Julie’s post about infertility. A lot of the same emotions and situations are going to come up even if she’s coming at it from a female perspective and…

  • 2 wink // Jan 30, 2004 at 2:57 am

    Thanks. So much of this resonates with me. So much has been the same. Thank you for weeping with me and for knowing that I want that more than sorrow, sayings or solutions.

  • 3 Patricia Taylor (Katherine's mom) // Feb 1, 2004 at 11:42 am

    The only thing I know for sure is that God is in charge. And that He loves us all. My mother, who went to meet her Maker two years ago this coming April, kept a small plaque near her bed which she read every morning. It now sits atop my kitchen window sill. It reads:

    Lord, help me to remember that nothing is going to happen to me today that You and I together can’t handle.

    An old preacher’s greeting to each new day.