Welcome back to Risky Baby Business, our Saturday series about babies and pregnancy here at More Cowbell! If you’re new, the previous posts in this series can be found here.
Today’s post is a bit different from my norm. Rather than being about babies in general, it’s about my journey in specifics.
Many of you know I had my daughter later than a lot of moms. I was 41 and I’d been told there would be no babies for me. Since I have so many friends and family walking their own rocky baby paths, I’ve been asked to elaborate a bit.
Before I go any further, I want to stress that I know I’m lucky. I went through a rocky journey, but I got a baby out of it, whereas thousands of women don’t.
I grieve for those women and I thank God every day for my bit of luck. It was all very unexpected.
The journey went something like this:
Nov 17, 2005: I went to the ER for increasing, continuous pain in both my legs. I was 37, dehydrated, working too hard, sleeping too little, and taking birth control pills (Yasmin). I had blood clots in both legs.
Nov 20, 2005: After being sent home for a minimum of 6 weeks of bed rest, blood thinners and Lovenox shots in the stomach, my chest started to feel tight that following Tuesday and I went BACK to the emergency room. My spiral CT (chest CAT scan) showed pulmonary embolii (multiple blood clots in the lungs).
I was on Coumadin for 9 months, I had pleurisy for 4 months, and it took me an extremely long time to feel healthy and energetic again.
There were some things about my body that had changed forever and I knew pregnancy might be one of them. Pregnant women gain 4 pounds of blood and the clotting risk for a previous blood clot sufferer is astronomical. I wasn’t sure I’d even be allowed to try.
Fast forward to Oct 2007: My honey and I had gotten married and wanted to explore the whole baby idea. We made an appointment with the high-risk OB to determine my options.
The high-risk guy made the following recommendations:
- Start taking folic acid, fish oil, prenatal vitamins and calcium immediately.
- He informed me that I’d need Lovenox the second I got pregnant.
- He recommended that I start organic dairy immediately. This can be accomplished more easily now than 5 years ago. One surprising thing I discovered is that most European cheese is naturally organic (fabulous time saver to know this!).
- He also recommended I move to organic fruits and vegetables but stressed that dairy was the most important thing.
- All the doctors recommended that I lose at least 10% of my body weight. I was still a bit fluffy from the blood clots (click here if you missed the “fluffy post”) and they said that 10-20% seem to be the magic number to kick-start fertility.
We tried for 6 months, which is what it takes to be classified as infertile when you’re over 35.
So, off we went to the fertility doctors…
Oh the tests. And the tests. And the procedures. But we were kind of in the wait and see mode because:
- We only had so much money. Blood work alone cost more than $2,000.
- I didn’t want baby-making to consume all of my newly married life.
- Because of my clotting disorder, I am not allowed to have ANY hormones, which takes many options off the table for me.
Still, we were encouraged that first visit because I had lots of follicles to work with and my FSH was a little over an 8 (my particular fertility specialists won’t work with you if your FSH is over 12). She said everything looked great and sent us off with high hopes.
We kept chipping away at the tests and we did everything the doctors asked. Less than a year later, we went back to take our baby-making to the next level (likely artificial insemination) because we had not conceived.
Did I mention that I’d turned 40 in this time frame?
It was now Spring 2009 and I had to repeat many of the blood tests to get a current hormonal picture.
I’ll never forget that day. It was gorgeous and sunny, and we were SO excited. Our fertility clinic has a high success rate and we were confident they could help us.
When we sat down to speak with the doctor, she had the oddest look on her face and I grabbed my husband’s hand. Sure enough, she said, “We’ve gotten your lab tests back and there are some changes we need to speak about.”
She proceeded to tell us that my FSH had shot up to 18.5 and that my eggs were only 6% viable. She told me I was no longer a good candidate for fertility treatments of ANY type.
My four new options were:
- We could do nothing.
- We could adopt, which she feels is saving the life of a child (her exact words).
- We could use donor eggs in a surrogate mother.
- We could use donor eggs and implant them in my body.
Then she reached across the desk and took my hand and said, “If it were me – and this is just my personal opinion – I would not have a baby in your body. It will be too hard and too dangerous and I simply would not do it.”
At that point, everyone in the room was crying.
I was pretty much a puddle of grief for several months while we mourned the death of our baby hopes. I couldn’t seem to get over the fact that my traitorous body was denying my husband a baby too. I couldn’t get my brain around my FSH shooting up that way. I couldn’t handle that I was knocking on the door to menopause at 40.
I felt like a complete failure as a woman. Words like “old crappy eggs” and “dead womb” were often on my mind.
We went to our marriage counselor to find a way through all this grief and I actually feel like I had some lucky advantages in all this (besides that I conceived out of the blue the following August):
- I had the rockstar counselor to help.
- I’d recently had a near-death experience so wallowing for long just didn’t feel right.
- I knew I wouldn’t be alive unless there was something important I was supposed to be doing.
- My husband and I really were excited about life with each other.
- I’m not opposed to adoption, particularly of an older child.
- I knew being pregnant could be lethal for me.
Finally, with my husband’s encouragement, I decided to quit the job I hated and birth books if I couldn’t have babies. I started planning vacations and trying to move to the next phase of our lives.
Aug 2009: I found out I was pregnant.
Certainly a new journey began, which is what we discuss each Saturday, but the above was my original conception journey. The path was rocky as hell. Despite my husband’s support, I felt very, very alone.
I have friends who went through (or are going through) infertility much younger than I did. If you’re under 35, the doctors make you try for at least a year. If you’re going through that year right now, I recommend you reach out.
Why is the conception journey SO hard for infertile couples?
- I think trying that long for a baby gets you more wound up over it.
- The ups and downs of 12+ conception-less monthly cycles is enough to crush the strongest of women. Every month feels like a failure.
- Being on hormones is so terribly difficult on the body and the mood that women usually feel even more cheated when there’s no baby. Plus, it’s pricy as hell.
- My friends who have conceived and lost children not only mourn these children, they feel guilt over miscarrying them. Every mother worries it was somehow her fault (it wasn’t).
Note: If you’ve lost a baby, please click here.
Do you have experience with infertility? Have you experienced any of the things I talk about above? Is there anything that made the experience less traumatic for you? (I hope you’ll share the answers to these questions if you’re able. We truly want to know.)
I didn’t experience the pain of infertility, but followed my best friend through hers. I made a conscious decision not to have children of my own when I married my “clipped” husband (surreal at first; “it is what it is” after that first emotive reaction). I married him and two wonderful, grown, stepchildren on the same day.
My friend’s story is much like yours (except for your EXTREMELY high risk). She tried every fertility treatment available for over a decade. When she was 39–she and I had drinks, and she cried over the stark reality that she wasn’t going to be a mom. Three months later, I was on a business trip in California and got a call from her. “Sit down and shut up,” she said. I did. “I’m pregnant.” And, she had a second child a little over 18 months later.
I’ve heard that story so often, Gloria, of women conceiving after they stop trying. But when you’re in the middle of it, feeling frantic, it’s hard to ever think of just stopping long enough to lower your stress and let nature take it’s course.
I’m delighted for your friend. She’s tired, because it’s harder to have babies older, but I’ll bet she’s so happy. That’s a lovely story…thanks for sharing it!
Oh, Jenny, what a journey you’ve had! I am in awe of what you and hubby have gone through, and how strong you both are. I am also thankful that you survived carrying and birthing a baby!
I never had trouble conceiving, but I can imagine how hard it was for you and others to deal with the hope/failure cycle, month after month.
I lost a baby once, very early in the pregnancy, at 6 weeks. Not nearly as traumatic as what other women have gone through, I know, and my heart goes out to them. You know what’s kind of funny, though? Every once in a while, I still wonder what that little person would have been like.
Thanks for sharing your experiences with us!
It has been quite a journey, I’ll tell you. But worth it.
I have friends who’ve conceived all day long but can’t carry to term, others who have lost multiple babies, and still others who can’t conceive. I think it’s hard to set a limit on something you want more than anything, and these women feel very alone while they’re in that cycle of hope and failure.
I imagine you do think about that child…I don’t think it matters if you lost one or four, every single one hurts your heart. Thanks for taking time to comment on this, Kathy!
Wow, I admire your courage and then even more, your willingness to share with others to bring them comfort in their journey, inspiration and hope. While I have been fortunate to not have fertility issues (had my daughter in 2007 at age 28), I cannot imagine what it would be like to want a child and be unable to have one. My daughter is absolutely one of the best blessings and joys of my life. Good luck to all those mothers, soon-to-be mothers and wishing-to-be mothers out there!
Thanks, Charity. I have friends who work hard not to be bitter while it feels like everyone BUT them is having babies. It is terribly hard on them and their families.
I feel blessed too and I echo your wishes to the others walking the baby road.
Thanks for sharing your story, Jenny. I’m so glad you were able to (finally) get pregnant. I know people all across the spectrum of fertility and quite a few adoptive parents. When you’re young, you just think it will happen whenever you want. But that simply isn’t the experience for plenty of people.
I’ll tell you, it was actually a complete surprise when we showed up pregs. I felt guilty because my first two emotions were fear and irritation. Joy and excitement followed quickly, but they weren’t my first reaction. 🙂
That being said, I wouldn’t trade a moment.
Knowing what I’ve learned about you through this series, Jenny, I’m more in awe of you than ever. I hurt for all the pain you went through, and I join you in rejoicing over your success in getting pregnant, carrying to term, and delivering a healthy baby. If your daughter ever learns half of what you went through to get her, she’ll feel like the most loved child in the world. And although it was your body that suffered through all this, you husband must be a rock to have stood with you through all of it. My hat’s off to both of you.
I hope she understands how much she is loved. We certainly did work for it. And I mean it when I say “we.” A lesser man than my honey couldn’t have withstood all this. He worked his ass off.
Wow, Jenny. Thanks for sharing your journey with such immediacy, such good writing. That amazing girl is a gift, just as you are.
Awww, Leanne…you got my waterworks going with this one! *sniffle*
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Thanks so much for sharing your journey with us, Jenny. I do find these kinds of stories inspirational, and it’s important to hear that others have felt as I feel. You hit the nail on the head with “feeling like a failure as a woman.” I know it’s irrational to feel that way, but it simply can’t be helped.
I’m so happy for you to have come to the end of your rocky journey and have a beautiful daughter.
Thanks, Gretchen, and I’m so sorry you’re walking the rocky path. I hope it ends in some peace in the journey for you.
And you can’t help the way you feel. It sounds like you still move forward with other things in your life that bring you joy, but it’s a hard, hard thing to accept infertility when you want a baby. I’ll send a wish out to the universe that you find your way to the child of your heart, whether it’s by birth or by happenstance.
Wow, Jenny. I experienced a miscarriage very early on during my first pregnancy but nothing like you have. I am in awe of you, girl. You are a strong and inspiring person and I wish you and your family all the health and happiness you deserve.
Thanks, Donna. It’s funny, I don’t feel all that inspiring – I just hung on my my fingernails and didn’t die. I’m pretty much here by God’s grace.
That being said, I get inspired continually by all the women who lose baby after baby and keep trying, or who adopt. They’re so dogged and loving toward the babies they want to make.
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