Written by Stefanie Cargill, guest blogger
I’ve always wanted to be a mother. Not in a way that most women want to be a mother. I mean deep down, to my very core, it’s what I’ve always wanted to be. To the point that on one of my husband and I’s first dates, I asked him if he wanted kids. I could feel myself falling for him, and if he didn’t want kids as much as I did, there was no point in continuing the relationship. That’s how badly I’ve always wanted children.
Fast forward a few years, and my husband and I decided to take the leap to start a family. We both had great careers, we’d been married a few years, and we’d bought a house. Although it took me convincing my husband we were ready (because let’s be honest, adding another mouth to feed can be terrifying), and everything was in place.
Much to our surprise, we didn’t get pregnant right away. We’d never known anyone to struggle, so this was all new territory to us. Months went by, my period continued to come, and each negative pregnancy test was like a slap in the face.
After about a year, I decided to pay an extra visit to my gynecologist, Dr. G. I started on a regimen of Femara, Estrogen, and Progesterone, to see if we could kick-start something. Although, my doctor told me if that didn’t work, he had a great colleague who was a reproductive endocrinologist that he would refer me to, if the time came. Several months went by, still nothing. Now the frustration was starting to take its toll. It seemed like everyone around us was getting pregnant without any problems!
I read everything I could on basal body temp, cervical mucus and how it played a role in fertility, soaking in every tidbit I could find about increasing our chances of getting pregnant. At one point, Dr. G recommended an HSG (hysterosalpingogram), which I agreed to. In this procedure (which is usually done in an outpatient radiology department), your physician will insert a soft-tipped catheter through your cervix and into your uterus, filling it with contrast dye. This procedure is to check for any blockages the patient may have in their fallopian tubes, as well as any uterine abnormalities (polyps, odd shape, etc.). We tried twice to have one done, but at the last minute (both times) my appointment was canceled due to Dr. G having to deliver babies.
About a year into our fertility journey, Dr. G recommended that my husband see a urologist to test for male factor infertility. So my husband did, and then we waited for the call from the urologist. I still remember that call. We had gone to South Padre Island, TX with some friends of ours when Dr. K (my husband’s urologist) called. Based on his exam of my husband and the results from the sperm analysis, my husband had a varicocele (a varicose vein in his scrotum) that was effecting our ability to get pregnant. Now, most people would be discouraged finding a problem. But I just thought, “Finally! Something tangible!” Because you know what comes after a problem? A friggin’ solution! Dr. K’s solution? Surgical intervention.
Wait, what? Whoa, whoa, whoa. We’re not quite there yet, doc.
I took the results to Dr. G, who recommended that we follow up with his colleague that was a reproductive endocrinologist, Dr. R, who was amazing. Our first appointment with him was spent in his office. He had a gigantic oak desk that he sat behind, and big comfy chairs for the people seeking his help. He asked us what our expectations were with this journey, what procedures we were willing to undergo, and what we knew so far. Basically to make sure we were all on the same page. This journey was going to be tough, but he made sure that we knew that he was on our team.
We brought my husband’s analysis with us. He poured over the results for a few minutes, and very matter-of-factly said that my husband wouldn’t need surgery. He’d gotten couples pregnant before with much worse labs. Well, if the varicocele wasn’t the problem, what was? Are we really back to square one? I was so disappointed! I think Dr. R could sense my disappointment, because he was very reassuring. We would get through this together.
So we started fertility treatments again. We started each cycle with an ultrasound, then went on to Femara, Estrogen, Progesterone, another ultrasound in there somewhere to make sure I was producing mature follicles (which I was). After several months of not getting pregnant, we were labeled with “unexplained fertility”. Everything was working as it should, but nothing was syncing up!
During this time, I felt like everyone around us was getting pregnant. Baby showers galore! I remember getting to the point where I didn’t even want to attend them anymore. Those colorful gift bags with bright tissue paper just mocked me. I’d wander the baby aisles, getting gifts for my friends, and feel a gaping hole in the pit of my stomach. It was devastating to me. My dream of becoming a mother, one that we’d been working so hard for, wasn’t even within arms’ reach. Even though our friends were getting pregnant without even trying.
I remember one day in the Spring of 2013 very vividly. I was driving down the highway and one of my dearest friends called me to tell me a bit of news. Her and her husband were pregnant with their second child. She was crying. I felt like I was underwater. I could hardly hear what she was saying, only catching bits and pieces. She was unsure about telling me, because she knew about everything we were going through. I swallowed hard, told her it was okay, and that I was ecstatic for her. I hung up the phone. Even though I was less than two miles from home, I had to pull over. I couldn’t see anymore through the tears. I remember sitting in my car on the side of the highway, my head on the steering wheel, my body wracked with uncontrollable sobs. Why was this so hard for us?! I spent ten minutes on the side of that highway until I was able to regain my composure and finish the short drive home. To this day, that memory still makes me weep.
Through this journey, I lost faith in God. Like, really lost faith. I grew up in a household where I went to church every Sunday morning, every Sunday evening, and every Wednesday night. On top of going to a week-long camp every summer. My best friends were people I went to church with. Our congregation was a big family—we took care of each other. So when my husband and I struggled to get pregnant, I felt betrayed. I distinctly remember one Sunday morning where I was in our master bath, brushing my teeth. I’m a night shift ER nurse, so to get up even remotely early on a Sunday is difficult for me and rarely happens. I was looking in the mirror, looking at my husband, who was hounding me about going to church, since we actually got up in enough time to go. I shook my head no. I didn’t want to go. “Why?”, he asked me. I didn’t want to answer. Tears filled my eyes. “What is it? Why don’t you want to go?” “BECAUSE I’M FREAKING ANGRY!” My husband was taken aback by my reaction. “Angry? At me? Why?” “I’m not angry at you! I’m angry at God! I feel like He’s completely abandoned me!” My entire life, I’d been completely devoted to God and my relationship with Him. Why would He do this to me? To us? If anyone knew how badly I wanted to be a mother, He did.
So how long would we be willing to put ourselves through all the infertility treatments? Don’t get me wrong, I really loved Dr. R and his nurse. They always made us feel like a part of the family. His office staff, on the other hand (check-in and check-out staff) were absolutely horrendous. On multiple occasions, I would be crying when I left his office. I never could understand how someone who works in an office where women are coming to you because they want to have a baby could be so mean and hateful! My husband and I decided to take a break from fertility treatments after an encounter with my least-favorite office staff member. I’d scheduled an ultrasound for the beginning of my cycle and when my period came a few days early, I tried to call in to the office to reschedule my ultrasound. The office staff member told me that it was impossible to reschedule. Her response: “It’s not my fault your period started early. There’s nothing I can do.” I don’t know if it was the stress of everything going on, or if it was all the hormones I was on, but that was it for me. I’d had it. I met my husband at work and told him what happened, and he agreed. After almost two years of trying to get pregnant, it was time to take a break.
And, guess what. We got pregnant. Who knew? Our little miracle baby was born on July 26, 2014. Our lives were complete.
After she was born, I didn’t have a period for a long time. In fact, E was about 16 months old. I didn’t think much of it. I was breastfeeding, after all. I stopped breastfeeding at a year, and didn’t really think about the fact that it took another four months for me to cycle. A few cycles in, I was going to the restroom and had pain so severe in my lower abdomen, that I thought I might pass out. I consulted Dr. Google. I know better. I’ve been an ER nurse for 10 years, a flight nurse for two. But it was the middle of the night, and I wanted an answer. Endometriosis. I couldn’t have a bowel movement, urinate, or even pass gas without being doubled over in pain. It all made so much sense! Our “unexplained infertility”, why I didn’t have a period for so long, the heavy periods. Was it possible, though? I’d never had any symptoms before! I made an appointment with Dr. G to discuss my options. Based on my symptoms, he agreed that it was probably endometriosis. The only way to definitively diagnose it, however, was with an exploratory laparotomy and a D&C. I decided I wasn’t quite ready for that yet, since our chances of getting pregnant would go up immediately following surgery. I didn’t want to have the surgery done twice, so I decided to wait until my husband and I were actually ready to have another baby. However, what I did do was start two different types of birth control to keep my symptoms under control. And it worked!
Fast-forward a few years, and my husband and I have made the decision to have another baby! We had long discussions about whether we wanted another baby or not. Were we ready to go through this again? The long, sleepless nights, the dirty diapers, the chapped nipples. Especially having to go through the painful possibility of not being able to get pregnant again? Are we ready to go through all that again? I’m going to be honest, it put a strain on our marriage (anyone that has been through this can attest to that). The biggest positive thing we have going for us this time around is that when I get discouraged, I can just look at our miracle angel baby and be content with what we have.
It’s been about six months so far. Two of my coworkers are pregnant, which makes this especially difficult. Seeing their growing bellies every day makes me a little jealous, let’s be honest. Actually, if we’re being honest, it makes me really freaking jealous. When I discussed this with my husband, he reminded me that we hadn’t been trying very long. While this is true, I think that infertility is something that marks you forever. I don’t feel like we’ve just started trying for baby number two. I feel like we just pressed the “unpause” button from our previous journey. Like we’ve been trying for two years plus six months. It’s so difficult living your life 28 days at a time. In the six months we’ve been trying, I’ve already gone through 7 pregnancy tests. And each time one of those dang things come back with one pink line, it’s like a fist to the gut. I hate it. I hate this process. The waiting, the disappointment, the fervent prayers sent up every night so that one day, hopefully, our family will be complete. Our family may not be complete, but it’s pretty dang perfect the way it is.