Prologue to Adoption: What does infertility look like?
If you have seen any photos of our family, it is quite obvious we have adopted. I’ve been meaning to chronicle Mia’s story to our family in one place for a long time, but have been too busy or too tired to make it happen. And I guess our path to Mia actually began a long time ago as our years of struggling with infertility are what led us to eventually decide to adopt. So here we go on the Prologue to Miss Mia….
Every family that chooses to adopt does so for different reasons. Adoption had been an idea floating in our heads for close to 9-years before it felt right for us to pursue. Here is the journey that lead us to eventually choose adoption.
Clarke and I married when we were young, starry eyed university students. We look back now and think, “What babies!” Clarke grew up in a large family, he is the youngest of 6 children, and I grew up the middle of three girls. I don’t think any woman really sees infertility in their future when they imagine their life ahead. I certainly never did. I imagined that my own family would look a lot like the family I grew up in. I thought we would have three children, all roughly 2-3 years apart, maybe if we were feeling crazy we might have 4. HA! If only I could go back to my younger self and chat about realistic expectations….
Don’t worry, It’s common….
I finished my undergraduate degree before Clarke, and then we both moved on to Masters degrees together. In the Autumn of 2004, during my last year of graduate school we decided to try for a baby (again, if I could go back and talk to myself I would say, “What are you thinking!?”)
We actually became pregnant quite quickly, after only 2 months of trying. We were thrilled, and as you do, kept the secret to ourselves and our immediate family. Ironically, the week that school was ending and that I was scrambling to complete a new creative project for my thesis with a pregnant dancer I received devastating news. At my first doctor appointment my measurements were not congruent to the size I should have been. They sent me for an ultrasound. The technician worked in silence, and then quickly left to talk to the doctor. She left us in the cold, dark room for what felt like an eternity, looking up at a little black blob, wondering if we should be worried. She came back, timidly telling me to get dressed and go to the doctor. The doctor told us that there was no heartbeat, but needing to be thorough we needed to wait a week and check again. So go home, try and be normal; maybe it will be all right?
The week was a blur. I almost did not have time to wonder about the baby because I was furiously creating a new thesis project in a matter of weeks. The day of the filming was intense. We only had eight hours in the studio with a set up and take down of an hour and a half to two hours on each end. I was also working with a dancer eight months pregnant, and a dancer who brought her three-month-old baby to rehearsal. I found myself sneaking thoughts of my baby throughout the day; I felt the irony that I was creating a dance film celebrating the beautiful pregnant form and womanhood, and yet wondering if my chance at such an event was slipping away. I felt coldness in my heart as I wondered. The fury of the day ended and I was left with questions, anticipation, hope and fear.
Three days after filming I went back to that same ultrasound room and as I feared in my heart, there was no heartbeat; there was no baby. This child had stopped growing weeks ago. I would need a dilation and curettage (D&C) the next day. The hour long drive back to my house from the hospital was one of the saddest of my life. I sobbed, my entire body shaking. It was like I couldn’t cry hard enough to match the sadness inside. I had tried to fulfill a righteous desire and was being denied in a most painful way.
I had the procedure, went back to school the next semester, and tried to move on with life. It was strange coming back to school after the holidays. Exchanging pleasantries with friends was awkward for me, everyone asking about my holiday, what I did, what I got. I had a major life experience, a trauma, a heart break, and yet there was not a way to tell people about it. When someone says, “Oh Christmas was great, I went home to my family, ate lots of wonderful food, and got an iPod for Christmas. How was yours?” it isn’t exactly fitting to say, “Oh, I lost a pregnancy and had a mildly invasive surgery to remove it. Thanks for asking.”
It is interesting looking at the medical records 12-years later. The medical terminology and speak is so sterile, so inverse of how the whole event feels, “The patient tolerated the procedure well,” I understand what that means literally, but in my mind I talk back to the doctor’s assessment,”Really? I tolerated that well? My broken heart, my confused expectations, my years of infertility ahead don’t really show I tolerated it well.”
Life moved along, the semester ended. Although my course work was completed, I was not done with my thesis. Clarke graduates with his Masters of Accountancy from BYU and we prepared to move half way around the world to Nanjing, China for Clarke to do post-graduate studies through The Chinese Flagship Program.
I thought I would have all the time and inspiration in the world to write in China, but I didn’t. I lost my focus, lost my purpose in life. I became overwhelmed with the adventure of living in a new culture with no schedule or structure to provide purpose.
When you have a miscarriage for the first time you aren’t really sure how you are supposed to feel. Most people try and make you feel better by saying, “Don’t worry. Miscarriages are common. 1 in 5 women will experience one in their lifetime. It was just a fluke.” or “You’re young, you can try again.” Well guess what? I don’t care if they are common. It doesn’t change the fact that I wanted this baby. So you try and take their advice and say to yourself, “That was nature taking care of itself. It won’t happen again. It was just a one- time thing.” But even though you tell yourself that, there is still that little voice in the back of your head saying, “What if it happens again?”
In January 2006 I became pregnant again while we were living in Shanghai, this time not planned. I was terrified. I did not know how it would work with insurance, or lack thereof, and moving back to the United States. And the greater fear was the ever-present question of, “Will the same thing happen again?” Everyone says that miscarriages are common; it’s nothing to worry about, so I tried not to. But the nagging fear stayed close to my heart. With Clarke at his internship for endless hours, it being the middle of winter in Shanghai, with no car, and not much money or much to do, I was pretty much left to myself for long days with the ping-pong game of thoughts in my head, “What if if happens again?…. No, it was a fluke…..What if it happens again?….. Don’t worry, it was a fluke….. What if?……”
“What if’s” do happen…..
Ten weeks came, and the check up came, and the ultrasound came, and no heartbeat came. The waiting came again. The week of wondering came again. So there we were. Our “What if?” looked like a, “Could be.” I numbly waited the week. During that week we moved from Shanghai back to Nanjing. We have to travel 3-hours back to Shanghai to the same hospital, and receive the same news again, “No heartbeat. Growth stopped at 5 weeks. Must remove the contents immediately.” Another minimally invasive surgery; another broken heart. This time instead of sadness I feel anger. Why would God let this happen to me? Again. But I prayed, and received peace to my soul. Somehow I am OK. Still sad, but OK. We travel back to Nanjing where I have a D&C in a local hospital (that deserves a whole post of it’s own! i.e. there is no soap in the bathrooms, the surgery room looks like something out of the 1960s, and Clarke has to go to the Chemist to order the anesthesia medicine himself!), where men are not allowed to enter the “female” areas, and Clarke has to wait outside while a friend helps me into the operating room.
We slowly emerge from Winter in China literally and figuratively and have a fulfilling last 5-months in China. Clarke does an internship, I teach English and discover yoga (life changer! That’s a whole other post as well.), and we have some awesome travel adventures.
Life moves on, again. We move across the world, again. I am still not done with my thesis. I try, but not hard enough. My thesis becomes a much longer gestation than I ever imagined. I feel confused at my body. Why won’t it fulfill its ultimate expression of femininity? I am afraid to get pregnant again, terrified there is something wrong with me. I study about the “wandering womb” for my thesis (to read it go here)and wonder about my cold, unstable organ. Maybe men were right? Maybe it is suspect, out of control, and unknowable.
We both run the full gamut of fertility tests with no conclusive answers. “Unexplained infertility,” is not exactly a diagnosis that leaves you with a game plan. I bounce around between 4 different doctors because of insurance issues, and just trying to find someone that feels like they will help me. At one point I go to a famous Beverly Hills hormone replacement doctor. Of course he was out of network, completely out of pocket. We pay him $2000 for him to tell me that I have the hormones of a 55-year old woman and puts me on a regimen of progesterone, testosterone, estrogen, and about 10 other bottles of vitamins and supplements that leaves my head spinning. I take them for a few months, but the system is so complex I get confused on what to take when. I develop large cysts on my face from the testosterone. I am embarrassed to leave the house. After a few months I can’t take it anymore and I quit the hormones and pills cold turkey.
I find a new doctor and we decide to keep trying naturally for a few months before heading down any other routes. I finally conceive (using one of these), but live in terror that the same thing will happen again. Blood tests and ultrasounds every Monday keep me barely hopeful. Every Monday I am elated when the baby is growing and my hormone levels are stable, but every Sunday night I am terrified for the next day’s results.
I cut back on almost all activity. I am afraid I am hurting the baby; maybe it was my fault the other miscarriages occurred? Every time I dance I wonder if I should stop. Every time I do yoga I work as minimally as possible.
As the weeks go by I almost believe this is happening. The fear diminishes, but never goes away completely. Even as I get heavy with child and feel him growing and moving inside of me I have to keep the fear from creeping into my heart.
He comes. Not how I planned, he is cut from my body, but he comes. And he is beautiful. He is more work than I ever imagined. I live on adrenaline. He scares me. But I love him through the fear. I feed him from my body. I watch him grow. He cries. I cry. We both live and grow. He is a delight. I learn. I relax. I live and love. I have a desire to go back and birth what I started so long before.
When Oli was 10-months old I dug down deep and found the perseverance to finish writing my thesis (to read it go here). I pass my oral defense with flying colours and graduate. I walk to receive my diploma with Oliver in my arms. It is deeply gratifying.
Life with a baby is all consuming, and the joy of finally having a wee one with us overshadows the stress and anxiety of getting him here. We push the fear to the back of our minds, because in our arms is living proof that “What if…” doesn’t happen every time. I secretly hope that having Oliver means our fertility struggles are over.
Life moves along and Oliver grows in to a fierce little Man that we love dearly. When he is 20-months old we box up our life in Florida and make a giant leap of faith, moving back to Shanghai, this time for Clarke to earn an MBA degree at China Europe International Business School (CEIBS). During this time adding to the family is on the back-burner as I work teaching yoga and dance and Clarke dives headlong into his studies and recruiting.
As we begin to see the light at the end of the school tunnel we are eager to start trying again for another child. We make another leap of faith, box our life in Shanghai up, and head down under to start a life in Auckland, New Zealand where Clarke has landed his dream job.
Becoming the 1%….
This time around I feign more confidence than the previous times. With three-year old Oliver as my “proof” that my body can do this I am able to keep the doubts further afield, though that creeping fear never really leaves, it just hides a little further back in my mind. I find out I am pregnant just weeks after arriving in Auckland. My fear and I do a dance, sometimes I lead, sometimes my fear leads. Since I am not yet a part of the public health system there is not much I can do to check on the status of my pregnancy. Around 6-weeks I wake up one morning to find some spotting. With hot tears that burn my cheeks I tell Clarke, and we both feel the fear take the lead in our dance. The next day I miscarry on my own after an agonizing day of terrible cramping. I call my parents on Skype and sob, wishing that my Mum could hold me and make it all better. It sounds very 5 year-old to say it, but life feels very unfair. I’ve just joined the select 1% of people trying to conceive who experience 3 or more miscarriages.
Clarke takes the day off of work and we pay for an ultrasound/scan to make sure that everything is out. We head to the beach to console ourselves with gelato (our first of MANY times at Takapuna Beach Cafe) and a long walk, only to find when we return that our car has been towed. Talk about adding insult to injury.
We move on, as you do. Scarred, shaken, and sad. This time the sadness isn’t sharp and painful, it is dull and numbing. The disappointment is almost like a joke. And as usual with a miscarriage, most people that you interact with have no idea what just happened to you, and small talk questions like, “How are you doing?” become a time to practice your poker face and perfect your fibbing skills. Most of the time when people ask that question they don’t really what to know how you are actually feeling, it is just being polite. And the question actually reminds you to ask yourself, “How am I doing? Oh yeah, I am not OK.” but you smile and say, “Fine, we are just fine.”
Feels like a part-time job….
Miscarriage changes you forever. Whether you’ve had one, or multiple miscarriages, it is still a loss, and you will never be the same person that you were before. After my third miscarriage I went through a phase where the thought of being pregnant again was terrifying. When miscarriage happens so often you just begin to associate being pregnant with loss and a broken heart. After I had a few months space and time to heal I was ready to start trying again, and seeing doctors to find out of anyone could help me.
I went to a private clinic for a few rounds of clomid while waiting for the public health referral to kick in. When I finally got into the “Recurrent pregnancy loss clinic” I sadly put my faith in the system that someone might be able to help me figure out what is going on with my body. They didn’t do anything for me, other than a bunch of tests (most of which I had already had 6-years ago) and now give me the super helpful diagnosis of “Unexplained Secondary Infertility.” I went through multiple months of trying on our own, two more cycles of clomid, and three rounds of IUI (Intrauterine Insemination). The amount of energy you have to give to these treatments is draining. Tracking your temperature every morning, then charting. Going for ultrasounds to check follicle number and size for multiple days in a row. Having to drive 20-minutes in heavy morning traffic to get a blood test before 8:15 am multiple days in a row, and get Oliver to school on time. And somehow my cycle always managed to require blood tests on Saturdays and Sundays which meant getting up super early and driving 30-40 minutes to the only collection site open on the weekend to get there before they open so that I can be back over the bridge to teach by 9:00 am. Paying $700 a month for each cycle only to be disappointed when I got my period again.
Living with infertility means that your whole life is only lived in 30 day cycles. All your thoughts are oriented towards where you are in the cycle, what your symptoms are, “Is that egg-white sticky or just plain sticky?,” “Oh, my breasts are tender. I must be pregnant! Oh no, that was just the overture to getting my period again.” For months and months I played the dance between hope and optimism to give myself positive energy, and pragmatism to protect my tender heart.
And the crowning moment must have been the month when I had TOO MANY nice sized follicles to try. I had 4 nicely sized follicles and they said the risk of multiples was too high. Part of me said, well, with my luck all four will fertilize and only one will stick around! I wanted to gamble so badly but didn’t. It was that month that really got my spirits down. All the scans and blood tests are like a part-time job, and you still have to pay for them even if you don’t complete the cycle. I even had many months of chemical-pregnancies, where I can tell that I actually fertilized but didn’t implant, resulting in a miscarriage that basically looks like a heavy period.