In first grade, I distinctly recall asking my Dad while walking out of school: “Do people HAVE TO get married when they get older?” With some assurance that it wasn't mandatory -- but many people like to -- my curiosity and dread was kicked down the road for another day. At that time, I never thought the day would come.
Today, as a 33-year-old with cystic fibrosis who faced the reality of my CF-related infertility long ago, it's hard to believe that my wife, Ashlee, and I are on the cusp of our first pregnancy. To simply reach the point of (possibly) being pregnant took an 18-month journey with in-vitro fertilization (IVF). And through it, a few lessons have been learned:
- Time to Plan: Infertility's Only Gift
Essentially everything about being infertile is a downer. Your friends and loved ones unleash a parade of beautiful children, while asking you when you're going to start. You wonder if you are somehow “less than” others, and you miss out on all the serendipity, mystery, and romanticism of a normal pregnancy landing on your doorstep one morning. But, there is one significant silver lining: You get to choose the best time to start attempting a family of your own. No surprises. No magic conjuring of a brand-new human after the perfect day on a Disney cruise. You intentionally sit down with a parade of doctors, nurses, and administrators, choosing specific dates and times for each baby step.
My wife and I agreed that we both wanted to finish our degrees and secure new jobs before we felt that we were able to better support a third member of our team ... and THEN, we would start family planning. Fortunately, we have been able to do all those things. People say, “There's never a perfect time to have a baby.” But hey, give us this one benefit of infertility, won't you?
- Find Outlets
Ashlee and I refer to the IVF journey as a roller coaster -- both for the obvious tie-in to there being many ups and downs when trying to scientifically create a human life, but also because you cannot get off the ride until it's over, no matter how it ends. You're in it through the highs, the lows, and the times they stop the ride to perform maintenance as you squirm and run wild with anxiety.
As the procedures, shots, pills, and constant inner-thought monologues unfold across weeks and months, you will need a few people in your corner and a couple of “go-to” activities for when your doubts are particularly strong. Fortunately, I have two distinct driving routes that I like to go down when I need the quiet time with my thoughts, and a couple of family and friends in whom I can confide.
Ashlee and I were given good advice at the outset when we were told that involving too many people could be overwhelming. The well-intentioned, proactive compassion of “How is it going? How can we help?” can drive you bat crazy. So, choose your human outlets wisely. The only people who can really help with what you want (i.e., producing a healthy human child through science) are the folks in the white lab coats. But, if you know someone going through infertility and attempting to start a family, do the things that will help lift their spirits -- like sending funny text messages about farts.
- Just Consider … 'Plan B'
Although Ashlee and I are eagerly awaiting the results of our upcoming transfer procedure, we also know that this may not work. The transfer may fail. We may have a miscarriage … or a stillbirth … and the list goes on. (As you can see, we are already practicing the parental mindset of being in a constant state of worry!)
As a couple, we have had many conversations around the topic, “What's next if this $40,000 attempt at life fails? Do we try IVF again? How many times? Do we adopt? Within the United States or internationally? Is having a biological or adopted child the defining factor of us sharing a meaningful, fulfilling life? Why or why not? Are we better off being the A-list aunt and uncle who also get involved in youth education and programs in our community? Are we overthinking it all? Can we just stop talking about all this and go eat somewhere we like, please?”
If this IVF journey doesn't work, we will be crushed and there will be no hiding it from anyone. But if it succeeds, we'll be over the moon.
Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
But whatever way it works out, I never thought this day would come.