When I was younger, I had a specific trajectory in my head of how my life was going to go. A "life plan." I was too young and naive to know that life plans are ill-advised because they assume that you have the ability to control the chaos around you, that you can actually make career, marriage, and family occur when you want (apparently you know some things at 35 that aren't obvious at 20). To some extent, though, you can control those life events--if you are mostly focused on the timeline and aren't thinking about the quality of what you seek. I wanted to be married at 24, establish my career, and have two babies by the time I was 30 (for two reasons: I had read somewhere that having babies and breastfeeding before 30 lessened your chances of breast cancer, and babies in your mid-to-late 20s seemed ideal in terms of young-but-not-too-young parenting). I cared more about those things I deemed important life events than what they actually looked like. I'm not saying that I didn't love my ex-husband, of course I did. I'm just saying that when bad things happened (all the freaking time) I would overlook them because if I broke up with my boyfriend at 22, how the hell was I supposed to get married at 24? It was scary. I was rigid. I spent a lot of time in my 20s trying to make my reality fit the white picket fence dream I had set up for myself that wasn't working because it wasn't right. I established a career in a marketing facet of children's publishing, an area that I was proud of and enjoyed immensely. But on the marriage front my ex-husband wanted to move away from the NYC area and up to the Rochester area, where a cluster of friends were. I was hesitant (um, there's no children's publishing in Rochester, helloooo....), but also couldn't ignore that the Life Plan Believer in me thought, oooooh, if we move to Rochester then we can buy a house sooner, and it will be cheaper to live, and we can start a family in a very family-friendly area, and maybe we can even afford for me to be a stay-at-home mom for a little while. Even though it meant moving away from my family and my best friend and my work, I flipped the switch and made the change and found a job in Rochester. Because I thought it might get me closer to that life plan. Because I was 25, and the time to have two babies by 30 was starting to close in. Over the next few years I had several jobs, all editorial in some way but varying in focus (curriculum coordination! yellow pages advertising! human resources specialist (my favorite of the three)!), as I figured out that I definitely wanted to go back to school to be a teacher. This was the first blip of my life plan, the first time that I actively sought to change something. I was 27 and we hadn't started trying to have a family yet. I had brought it up, but there was always an excuse, always a reason, until there was no reason and my ex-husband said "I just don't know if I want kids right now." Wow. Dealbreaker. Suckerpunch. NOT what I wanted to hear. (Turns out he didn't want to have kids because he was too busy having multi-year relationships with other women during our marriage, and I was an unwitting sister wife of sorts, but whatever.) So I changed the plan. For the first time, I changed my vision of the future. I tossed out an ultimatum: either we try to have a baby, or I go back to school to get my Master's in Education. I had zero support for either option, but luckily (I thank my lucky stars EVERY DAY that I had planned and that I stuck by education over baby with Voldemort) I had socked away enough money freelancing as a writer and an editor to pay for my whole first year of graduate school in cash. Can't really argue with that. Although someone, a passive-aggressive individual who shall not be named, left the message congratulating me on my acceptance into the program on the answering machine for days without telling me and then said, "Well, we haven't decided you can go yet." So, so many reasons to change that life plan and find a partner in life who was supportive and not a total asshole, but again, I was scared of the big open space of no plan. Even though I had already changed my expectations, and moved the babymaking a little past 30 (I would graduate halfway through my 30th year), it wasn't dawning on me that I wanted to procreate with someone who didn't want to commit to a happy healthy life with me, and me alone. If I got a divorce in my late 20s then who knew when the babymaking could happen? Too scary. Better to stay put. At least until the lid blew off the extracurricular nonsense, the Christmas I was 29, and suddenly my plan was shattered. My ultimately self-destructive plan that had whispered (loudly) in my ear that I needed these set milestones but not quality of life within them, that I was undeserving of true happiness and a household free of yelling and pushing and projectile objects (and gross sex in my marital bed with other people).
Wow, that was a very long tangent, but I promise it is related. My mind wants a life plan. It is very hard for me to be flexible, as the saga of my 20s has illustrated. But, when push came to shove, I was capable of throwing that plan away. I got a divorce at 30 while student teaching and broke and starting completely over. And then I met my husband, the one I was meant to have, the one I had to walk through Hell to get to. And I started a new career, that I love and that I truly feel is what I was meant to do, as hard as it is. And I had to try to squash that voice in my head that kept formulating a new plan. I can't stop trying to control my life. I had timelines in my head of when Bryce and I should move in together, when we should get married, when we could start trying to have children. But this time I relegated those thoughts to the far back recesses of my mind, to let things be more organic. To account for changes, such as when, a month and a half into dating this mystery man that I met through Match.com purely by chance but who turned out to be the perfect husband for me, we sat around a firepit in his backyard and he let me know that he'd had difficulty with fertility in his previous marriage and couldn't have children. A little overly dramatic, there's a difference between male factor infertility and complete sterility, but still, it was a bit of a shock to my system. I waited for The Plan alarms to go off. Instead, I realized that I wanted what was now, that I wanted this amazing man in my life, that I was falling in love with him and children were somewhere in the future but what was most important to me was this man, now. We could figure that other part out later. I wasn't going to base my decisions on The Plan anymore.
But now, after discovering that on top of male factor infertility we are faced with female factor infertility (thank you, PCOS), we seem to be up against a dash of unexplained infertility, too. Because both of our challenges are overcome by the process of IVF, and we end up with embryos, pretty embryos, and then no one can figure out why they never stay in my apparently beautiful uterus and make a baby. Very frustrating to the planner in me. I can't control it. And, to get back to the title of this post, this whole process of infertility has altered my dreams. I did not ever envision myself at 36 (my birthday is a week from today, hip. hip. hooray.) with no baby, no pregnancy, and no good reason for why that is. While my 30s have been a Figuring Out Time (figuring out what I want and deserve in a relationship, what my career should be, what our plan for overcoming infertility is), I can't figure out how to make sense of how we got to this particular point: five IVF transfers, thirteen embryos come and gone, one destructive, life-threatening and short-lived pregnancy, a few brief years before we hit our forties, and no idea where to go from here.
Infertility has altered my vision of what the path to parenthood would look like in countless ways. It prompts us to make hard decisions. We have many options and weigh them, constantly. We research everything. But it doesn't change the fact that we have had to take our (my) plan and throw it out the window. As we adjust and readjust and realize that there can be no life plan surrounding this experience, we have to decide or at least mull over different very hard questions, questions that a lot of people on this journey have to consider:
- At what point, if there is still no answer other than poor gambling skills, do we move on to something else? It's so hard to even think about moving on when we have no idea if the next time is THE time, if the stars will all align and they mystery will be solved. We can't give that up quite yet, not when we don't have data telling us it's not going to happen for us.
- What is most important to us? Is it genetic material, the experience of pregnancy, having a baby, or having a child? (I am attached to my uterus until someone can prove it's truly malicious and defunct. I am not nearly as attached to my eggs.)
- Do we need to get a second opinion? (We love our medical team. We love, love, love our doctor. But, if our sixth transfer doesn't work out, if we have transferred 16 embryos without success, would we be stupid to not seek the opinion of other doctors, even if they are not in our local area? We are super loyal people so this is a hard one to ponder.)
- How long do we keep at medical intervention? Even if we are excellent (although not feeling the excellence so much anymore) candidates for this process, if we wait too long will we no longer be able to put emotional and financial wherewithal behind the adoption process if we choose that route? Will we still be eligible? Or will we be too exhausted to enter into another process? With our current situation undefined and unresolved, we just can't enter into the hard realities of adoption yet.
- Do I need to come to grips with the fact that at this point, my only chance at two children is to conceive twins? That if we succeed and have a baby, that I will have to embrace my role as a mother of an only child? That was not my plan, I wanted siblings running around my house, but has infertility made that out of our reach if it's taking so much just to try to get viably pregnant once? I would be thrilled, THRILLED to be the mother of one child if it meant that I could be a mother at all. But it's an adjustment.
- Do I need to accept, that in my push to try to give us the best chances ever, that I could go the other way and become a mother of triplets? Unlikely, given that thirteen embryos have cycled through, often three at a time, with no more than one waylaid implantation taking place, but it's an increasing risk the older I get and with the number of embryos I push for, but is taking this risk for the chance at ONE fetus worth the risk of having three? (Yes. The answer is yes, for me.)
- When this is all over, because I do truly believe (although it gets harder each time to sustain this belief) that we will be successful, will we have the financial stability left to parent the way we envisioned? Will I be able to take full advantage of my maternity leave benefits, or will our bank accounts be too depleted to justify living on one income for any period of time? Will our love be enough to make up for the lack of sleepaway camps and expensive family vacations and all the techno-gadgets that I desperately do not want in my house but fear we won't be able to avoid? I think so. Looking back at my own childhood, I had a lot of love and quality (often free) experiences, and not a lot of expensive "stuff." I think that was highly valuable. I think expensive doesn't equal happy. But I don't know what the world will look like by the time we can bring a baby into it--I don't know what opportunities I will have to turn down for my child because we simply can't afford it after everything we've been through to conceive.
- Did we ever truly know how much we wanted to be parents when we entered this process? I had no idea that we would have this level of strength, of resilience, of motivation to make this work. I always, always wanted to be a mom but now I know how very badly I want it and just how far I am willing to go to have that experience. How we do it may change over time and with new information on our situation, but I had no idea going into this how far we'd be willing to go to fight for our right to reproduce. To see what a little Bryce and Jess combined together would look like. To add to our already happy household, our relationship that has stood the tests of this cruel and grueling process.
Below are links from RESOLVE to help further the understanding of infertility and awareness: