Last year this time, I was in New York with a fresh needle wound from the first shot of my in-vitro fertilization cycle. I was trying to be thankful for a wonderful husband, a promising job that fit my talents and general happiness with life despite the ache of not yet being pregnant and having to endure IVF at all. That was a difficult balance. It was even worse to battle such inner turmoil while wearing the permanent smile-face of holidays with in-laws who didn’t know or necessarily understand anything about me or anything I might be feeling. Empathy from outside of the infertility circle is hard to come by even after the explanations of why and how.
But. I. Survived.
And I came out with a story to tell happily ending with a real live Rufus and Reefus, born exactly three months, two weeks and three days ago. Even as I listen to them sleep in their cribs (for only the third freaking day ever FINALLY), it’s unbelievable that they actually exist way beyond a couple groups of dividing cells, a collection of heartbeats captured in a whirlwind doctor’s visit or even the invisible sources of discomfort in the late hours of labor. Ready or not (with emphasis on the NOT), they’re here.
Their presence means:
– I’m up at 5:43 a.m., having just nursed the boy for the third time this hour with him now wanting to play. (Grrr, boy, go to sleep!)
– I contemplate daily cutting my hair to a low fade to avoid looking a hot mess. (My stylist’s feelings will be so hurt.)
– I haven’t slept more than four hours at a time since a week before I delivered. (I’m done with the “I’m tired” complaints of my childless friends, BTW.)
– I ate Thanksgiving dinner with a baby on my lap, having cooked a minimal spread with another on my hip.
– I’m incredibly isolated from the civilized world most days and evenings and often lonely because of my husband’s work hours.
– This is life as I now know it with no end in sight.
Yet this year, even with all of that, I’m not superficially thankful with a veneer over the potentially heavy burdens of new motherhood. Instead, I’m overwhelmingly humble for the greatest gifts since salvation and welcoming of the collective discomforts that my babies bring. I can’t say I don’t complain — I do because, well, this crap is hard — but the comfort of this new family is greater than the discomfort of feeling it would never happen. This is true every day all day with baby giggles, smiles and developmental skills that put icing on the cake (which I can eat worry-free with the calorie burning of nursing). And I’m nothing but thankful for that. I’m also thankful for the smallest hope that led me to this point, the prayers of the people around me, those who remain to share in our children’s lives and to God, who made it all possible.
Recognizing that things didn’t have to work out in my favor has made every day with the twins a day of thanksgiving, regardless of what the calendar says. To those whose struggle continues, try to know that my heart is with you. Happy Thanksgiving (give or take four or five days. Sue me; I’ve got twins).
The fact that I’m actually doing this in-vitro fertilization thing is really sinking in. I don’t know how I feel about that. Let me think about it — that is try to mediatate on the words that match my feelings, whatever they are … Meanwhile, I know you’ve still got questions. I’ve got answers:
11) How worried are you about the side effects — death, stroke, losing an ovary?
I’ve been well versed in all the risk factors and surprised at the same time. I’m not worried, though. I don’t know why. I’m just not.
12) How much does it cost? Is it expensive?
Expense is relative based on what you value. Eight dollars for a gallon of gas is expensive unless your tank is on “E,” and there’s just one station nearby. Also, not to get religious on you, we tithe at our church, so by God, we tend to have everything we need to keep the lights on and eat well though we likely make less money than you’d think.
13) Will you be another Octomom?
It’s highly unlikely. There’s a reason that the doctor for Nadya Suleman (her NAME, people) lost his license. The American Society for Reproductive Medicine recommends implanting no more than two embryos – fertilized eggs – in women 35 and younger and no more than five for women older than 40. Her doctor implanted 12, and eight survived. As I get deeper into this process, I totally get how the doctor is the most at fault.
In some cases, implanted embryos split and two may become three. It happens, but it’s rare. For me to sprout octuplets, the fertilized eggs that will be returned to sender would have to miraculously split several times over and beyond that. Don’t hold your breath for it to happen. And if it does, like NeNe from the Real Housewives of Atlanta, I’ll be verrrry rich.
Also, on the Octomom thing, jokes about this get old very quickly. Tread carefully.
14) Does infertility run in your family?
I’m one of four, the youngest actually. My maternal grandmother had four children; my paternal grandmother had eight with several losses in between. From that, I’d say no. But then, when I consider that of all my aunts, only two bore their own children, it’s a possibility. Reproductive system issues were rampant, and although my mother was perhaps the most fertile of everybody, she died in 2007 of ovarian cancer.
15) Why you putting all your business out there?
I have several answers for this. You remember when people wouldn’t say “cancer” out loud? It was mysterious, and people thought it was contagious. Now that it’s an everyday word, there are rallies and research and resources for its less affluent sufferers. Do you remember how conversations about AIDS started that way? See where I’m going?
Black people have a tendency to be quiet about the wrong things. Infertility is not a white woman’s condition, and treating it is not a luxury reserved for rich people. We would know that and perhaps encourage women struggling with infertility to reach out for support if it weren’t such a secret. And maybe that support would become universally offered, expected and funded.
That’s the activist in me talking. She can only go on for so long before it gets personal.
I carried this “secret” of struggling to conceive for a long time, especially in the face of well-meaning comments of it being “time to start a family.” I struggled through Mother’s Day and seemingly a million friends showing off 3-D ultrasounds and pictures of new babies. Quite often, I wanted to, like, snap out and just let some folks have it – not quite the Christian approach. I’d told a couple people in an informational kinda way, but really, I was starting to need something more than what even the saint-like Mr. could contain. Honestly, given my own beliefs, I needed some people praying for me.
So, randomly, over breakfast with my beloved fellow singers, I spoke up. Immediately, something lifted. It was clear that all of this is safer for me spoken out loud than trapped in my head. And now I’m writing it because I just can’t talk THAT much.
In the last two months, I’ve taken more license in speaking about why I have yet another doctor’s appointment and why it’s on Sunday morning. Each disapproving look or dumb comment has prepared me for the next one. So, negative ninnies, bring it on.
16) What does your family say about it?
My sister has taken the Malcolm X approach: by any means necessary. I told a brother that we were having trouble, and he said, “The Lord will make it happen when He decides. You can’t do nothing but wait.” Ironically, this is similar to something my estranged father said when my 6-year-old self asked where babies came from. Alas. I haven’t discussed my infertility with any other members of my family.
17) Do you think God is punishing you for something you did?
18) What are your church’s or pastor’s views on all of this?
It hasn’t really come up in church. And as for my pastor, I didn’t think to ask him what he thought. I did, however, slip his wife a note to pray for us and the in-vitro fertilization process.
19) How much does your health insurance cover?
Fortunately, we do have insurance coverage; a lot of women do not or one cycle wipes out their entire benefit. For us, most procedures are covered at 80 percent. The diagnostic hysterosalpingogram, or HSG, was our wakeup call that this process could get pricey. Insurance coverage for that still cost about $500 out of pocket. For the intrauterine inseminations, we paid about $22 out of pocket, but the accompanying drugs carried $75 and $10 copays. Multiply all of that times three, and that’s about the out-of-pocket cost of the drug protocols for one month of in-vitro fertilization. This one cycle will complete my lifetime maximum for my current insurance. Limitations like that fuel the temptation to implant as many embryos as possible, by the way. Decisions on what to do with the remaining embryos raises other issues as well.
20) How do you deal with the dumb things people say when they find out you’re undergoing infertility treatments?
I involuntarily cut my eyes at them before I politely nod and take it as my cue to shut up. Mentally, I acknowledge that it is ignorance and not necessarily malice. I also try to choose people I open up to carefully. I don’t yet have canned responses for the innocent but painful questions about when we’ll have kids. I’ve tried not to take my frustration out on the unsuspecting — even when they deserve it.
(Sigh) If you made it this far down, you’re a trooper. Thanks for sticking around. FWIW, these answers don’t negate my willingness to share other things you may be curious about. Feel free to post a question in the comments section, or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to hearing from you. — MBE