We spent over five years trying to get pregnant with medical help. It started with getting the referral to the fertility clinic at my annual gynecological exam in April 2009 after showing paperwork previous to me that revealed our male factor issues, then our consult September 1, 2009 that led to every IUI, IVF, uterine surgery, donor profile, injection, transvaginal ultrasound, polyp, failure, miscarriage, ectopic, cancellation and everything else that happened between our hopeful beginning in 2009 and the point where our dream of pregnancy ended in late January 2015.
And by the time it ended, we were exhausted.
We had put so much energy, time, and money into a process that ultimately failed us. Everyone tried so hard -- we did experimental protocols, our teams researched new approaches, and everyone kept thinking this time it's going to work.
But then we had a long stretch from August 2012 onwards where I never got pregnant again, not once. And we faced the fact over sushi on a Sunday afternoon in December 2014 that it wasn't really likely that that was going to happen again, and that we were tired. So, so, so tired. We weren't going to become parents this way, even though there wasn't a clear-cut reason given as to why that was. Why 27 embryos came and went and none of them actually became anything sustainable. And so we attempted to transfer our final frozen embryos two more times, and both times were cancelled due to poor lining and mystery fluid in the uterus...and in the space between January 31st and February 2nd we went from IVF failures to registered prospective adoptive parents.
From devastation to hope.
From the most frustrating of ends to a brand-new beginning.
But we were tired. It was hard to be the ones to end the possibility of pregnancy, a possibility that turned out to have been so very minute and fleeting.
During the infertility journey, we were met with two camps when it came to the longevity of our fight.
CAMP UNBELIEVABLY POSITIVE
The first were the Positive Thinking Brigade, the "hang in there and it WILL happen," the "your successful cycle could be RIGHT AROUND THE CORNER!" and the "This one's THE ONE, I just KNOW it." This was helpful at first, when things did seem positive. I was the worst in this regard, because I wanted so badly for the next cycle to be THE cycle, to fly off the lonely merry-go-round of despair and failure into the mobs of moms at the playground, hanging out with their miracle babies. I could have a miracle, right? And these were people who cheered us on, tirelessly, with chants of "never give up!" and tales of people who did one last cycle with a crappy quality embryo and THAT was when the miracle happened. It could happen. I knew people it had happened to. I was a miracle believer.
For a while, anyway. Then it became increasingly difficult to believe that our miracle was going to come this way, and I actually started hating the world "miracle" with regards to children. I still do. It makes you feel pretty shitty to continuously NOT be the recipient of the miracle, whether it comes via a team of doctors, an amazing spontaneous pregnancy, or through a 3 inch binder of paperwork involving social workers, lawyers, and a family created out of someone else's loss. Especially hard to say miracle there, where your joy is someone else's tragedy and your child will feel that loss in one way or another for the rest of their life (obviously not every minute of every day, but it will lurk).
I digress. There was another camp that became more and more crowded as our IVF cycles reached double digits.
CAMP WHEN THE FUCK ARE YOU GOING TO STOP THIS MADNESS?
This camp was more numerous than it was vocal. Although, when it was vocal, largely in the last two years of our experience with IVF, it was VOCAL. I had a friend ask me point blank how much longer I was planning to put my body through this for nothing. An uncle gently asked my husband in the hall of my grandmother's nursing home, "How much longer will you do this? When will you stop?" What started as a question rooted in caring but also curiosity became an urgent plea of, "At what point do YOU decide you're done, when no one medical seems to be pulling the plug for you?" It was also a camp of converts, with some of the Positivity Brigade jumping ship and joining this one.
It's much harder to listen to the camp that is questioning your choices than the one that tells you miracles happen every day, but the fact of the matter was MIRACLES WEREN'T HAPPENING HERE.
I had a stomach covered in deep purple lovenox bruises, a car that I was putting serious mileage on driving to Buffalo in the snow every other day from November through January (not every every other day but it sure as hell seemed that way), a protocol at one point that had me taking 5 Benadryl per day to tame my histamines (ironic given the recent hive extravaganza) but still driving to Buffalo in whiteout conditions including one memorable 2.5 hour drive when the regular highway was closed due to the freak SEVEN FEET OF SNOW that dumped itself on the southern side of Buffalo. I had a uterus that was systematically giving me the finger on the daily. I had a lot of things, actually. What I didn't have anymore was hope.
We had been super vocal that saying "why don't you just adopt?" was incredibly stupid. That we had considered adoption, that adoption was on the table, but it wasn't a "just" by any means and it would mean a whole new process with its own consummate exhaustion, just not bodily. So, thankfully, most people didn't say that to us. (For some reason, though, people had no problem telling us that we should do gestational carrier, or offhandedly offering to be our uterus-for-rent without either the qualifications to do so or the actual ability or desire to sign on for real, not that that option was actually ever on the table for more than a hot second.)
There were a lot of happy people when we announced that we were pulling the plug ourselves on IVF, that we had circled down the drain slowly enough over time to just end it and be okay with that. Happy is relative. I guess maybe not happy, but relieved. Thank goodness you're giving your poor body a rest. Your body has been telling you it just can't do this. Okay, that one hurt, because why my body decided to suck at getting and staying pregnant was beyond me, but I got the point behind it. And yes, I was thrilled to take my body out of the running.
Five and a half years of fertility treatments that never worked for us, not really, and people really started losing steam in supporting us as we banged our heads against a very hard and stubborn wall after about three and a half years, maybe four. When we started trying donor and then THAT still didn't work, and we weren't even getting pregnant anymore.
NOW, we are in a new process, and we are a year and five months into our adoption adventure. I'm counting from the moment we filled out the ginormous application and started the paperwork rolling, although we have now updated our homestudy for another year, having had a whole year go by without a match. Profile opportunities, yes. Match...no.
I feel the murmurs are starting early on us. It's a whole new process; we should get a restart on the empathy stores. It doesn't seem to work like that, though.
When it came time to redo our homestudy, we found ourselves facing several comments, such as, "So you're going to sign on for another year with this agency, huh?" or "What's causing the delay? Is there something they can tell you about why you're not getting matched? Shouldn't you be matched by now?" or "How long are you going to do this?"
I mean, it is hard for all those who are watching us go through this quest for parenthood, including my dad who said, "You guys just have had the worst luck in all this parenthood thing. It just isn't coming together for you easily at all." True, true. But as exhausting as it is as a caring bystander, JUST IMAGINE WHAT IT IS LIKE TO LIVE IT. To be completely exhausted every day with the sheer effort of every kind it takes to still believe that parenthood is possible, even when nothing is clear cut or simple or easy or moving at the pace or timeline we'd have preferred (that timeline has us with two kids already, joining in on the endless conversations about kids going into kindergarten and how fast they grow...or maybe with a toddler...or with a couple-month-old baby that we adopted in the spring...I guess none of those worked out so much, and saying goodbye to each and every one of those dreams is just so tiring).
And even though it is exhausting for us...IT IS TOO SOON TO BE ASKING US "HOW LONG."
It just is.
We have these conversations privately, because we do know that you can't do this indefinitely. Hats off to you if you can, but seven years of limbo and effort and absolutely no success takes a toll on a body and soul. We wonder sometimes, "what would it be like, to not be trying to have a family anymore...to just LIVE?" and it's true that once that sounded so scary and sad, and now it has a tinge of RELIEF to it.
It's just a tinge, though...not to the point where we are ready to stop, but it is out there, lurking, that it's possible to hit a point where we just can't do this anymore. I feel guilty for even thinking that it would be a relief to have this whole thing be over, as our entire married life has been spent trying to become parents, knowing that we would be amazing parents, and we have an actual nursery upstairs for a hypothetical future baby, and there are so many people who have supported us and continue to support us through everything that I can't help but feel that we'd disappoint mightily on so many fronts if we decided to end our quest for parenthood. If we hit the point where we decided to stop. Again.
BUT, THAT POINT IS NOT NOW. Even though our agency originally touted an average timeframe of 7-9 months from homestudy completion to placement at the time of our classes, and we are past that and it is disappointing (although the math of averages still makes it possible to be 100% true), we are within normal timeframes for adoption as a whole. It takes most people more than a year, I am finding when I talk to real people. This is normal. We have had profile opportunities, which is helpful because it makes us feel that we are profileable and eventually it will be the right match...there is progress in some shape or form.
We are hanging in there, even though it's hard. We are NOT adding on or switching to a different agency, because that would mean a boatload of new fees and I am tired enough keeping up on the paperwork for ONE agency, let alone two. And, quite frankly, I LOVE our agency. I think they do a great job, even though we're still waiting (they were very upfront that there are no guarantees with adoption, and that the data changes a lot dependent on all the factors inherent in women choosing to place their unborn babies...it doesn't reflect on the agency in my mind that we are waiting longer than we thought we might). A topic for another post, but we are NOT taking on private adoption at this time for our own very good reasons. We are NOT ready to entertain the idea of letting this whole thing go, of saying, "Well, that royally sucked, but here we are."
We need encouragement -- not the keep-positive-brigade type that is endlessly sunshiny and ignores all the pitfalls and emotional drops inherent in adoption -- but just "How are you doing?" or "We're here for you as you wait," or "The wait really sucks, huh? How are you coping?"
Because the waiting really, really sucks. I knew it would, but I thought it would be easier because I'd been through infertility hell and what's more waiting on top of what we'd already done, especially when it no longer meant a failure of my body to do a basic human function. But it's exhausting. We can't truly just live life as is until we get the call, because we have to have the adoption funds ready at a moment's notice, which fortunately for us isn't a terrible hardship but it does mean that we are stuck. We tried to take a vacation involving a plane and found that we had a profile opportunity that stymied that...and by the time we knew we weren't chosen it was too late to set that plan into motion again. We can't move because we'd have to redo our homestudy, and how awful would it be to spend the money to move and then be short adoption money? I am growing cavalier with my phone, which used to be attached to me at all times at the highest volume, and now I feel like if it rings it's probably a telemarketer. One day it will hopefully be a profile opportunity that will be ours in the truest sense, but right now my phone mocks me. At least with IVF I knew when a call was coming...between certain times on a certain date. Now it's all amorphous. The wait is cruel, because you're expecting a baby to materialize, with very little warning, so you have to be ready for that...but you have to be ready indefinitely, without a true timeframe to get used to the idea and you have to be okay with waiting for that mythical baby for years. Hopefully not years. But yeah, maybe years. And you are encouraged to "live your life" in that timeframe. Which I am finding extraordinarily difficult to do with fidelity.
So I really wish that people wouldn't start setting nails into this particular coffin. This is it. If we don't become parents through adoption, we are not going to become parents. The end. So we need people to hang in there with us until we (hopefully don't) have to decide again if we are circling down a drain, slowly. We don't need to hear horror stories of other adoptions gone wrong. We know that can happen. It's like telling an 8-month pregnant woman about someone you know who had a stillbirth at 9 months. What the fuck is the point of that? Bad things happen, everyone knows this. We are actually very familiar with the fact that bad things happen. What we need now is to have our bystanders strengthen our armor, not put tiny chinks in it. To trust that we are in this process, and that we have a plan, and that asking us how long we're going to pursue adoption like it's already too tiring, too long is the same as asking us when we'll be okay with not becoming parents. It might not seem like the same thing, but it is.
It must be hard, because it probably feels to people outside the infertility/loss/adoption sphere like there is no good thing to say to us anymore. And I admit, it's tricky. However, I would far rather people say the wrong thing than nothing at all, because I can work with the wrong thing and not be mad at the person (for long anyway) who said it for not knowing that it's not stellar, or accurate, or sensitive. I am sensitive to comments in general about IVF being a sure thing (it isn't); about adoption being easy or too hard or too birth-mother-dependent or too few because of sex ed and abortions; about moms being better than non-moms, because I've wanted to be one and just haven't been able to make that happen for as long as a second-grader's been alive, and I'm not so sure that I am less strong or less able to love deeply because I'm not a mom; about parenting being the ultimate experience when it is possible that that might not happen; and also about parenting being so, so hard, because even though I'm sure that's the case, I cannot fathom it being so much harder than desperately WANTING a family for seven years and being thwarted at every turn, watching everyone else's lives move on and their kids grow up and we're still waiting in the wings for our cue. It sucks.
I do believe it will happen. I do still believe positively, but the veins of realism are running thicker than they used to. We are living in this exhausted, frustrated space, and we just need people to let us know that there's here for us in this limbo, no matter how it turns out, and to have patience that it may take a while and that's hard, but it's okay. We are learning how to live in this space, and we can teach others how to live there, with us to some extent, too, so we can all come out of this in one (battered and bruised but resolved) piece.