First off, let me start by saying that infertility, infant and pregnancy loss affect men and women alike. There is a misconception out in the world that fertility problems are only for the ladies or that men don’t feel the pain of pregnancy loss or infertility. That is plainly not true. Sometimes I think that for men it can be even worse because they only figure out they are infertile if they have other underlying problems with their reproductive system, if the ask to get tested, or if they have attempted to impregnate a partner on purpose and haven’t managed to do so within a period of 12 months. Couples that cannot carry an heir to term and pass down the family name are seen as failures. The stigma of child loss is real and equally devastating for those trying to conceive.
Statistics1 from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) show that 10.9% of women ages 15-44 have impaired fecundity, based on the 2006-2010 United States population data. This amounts to 6.7 million women who had impaired ability to get pregnant or carry a baby to term during that time period. Of those women, 1.5 million or 6% were married. That means that out of 100 women, at least 11 will have issues conceiving a child based on a medical or unknown condition. There is a high probability that you will meet one of these people at some point in their lives, especially since the CDC’s records show that 7.4 million women have used infertility services. If you are wondering why I don’t have data for the men, it is because the burden of fertility and live births are placed on women, and the percentage of men known to have issues is so small it is barely worth recording. The CDC website does have more information on the subject and I suggest you take a look if you or a loved one is going through this.
How do I know all this? Why do I care?
Six months after I got married we found out we were expecting our first child. My husband walked into the bar we used for our weekly reverse happy hour encounters and I ordered water. The look on his face was priceless! Our OBGYN told us that all the hormone levels looked fine and that our pregnancy was off to a good start; all that was left to do was wait a few more weeks to get our first sonogram on week number 12. We went on a cruise, celebrated that our family was officially waiting for Player 3 to join the game, and hoped that our son or daughter was healthy.
Ever the optimist, I consoled my husband with the opportunity to become a stay at home dad when he got a layoff notice the week we were scheduled for the ultrasound. Both of us walked into the doctor’s office as ecstatic mommy and daddy to be and left the room with an empty sonogram. The nurse gave us a few minutes to process the information we had received, and all we could do was cry uncontrollably because we didn’t understand why this was happening to us.
I remember the doctor mentioned that our type of miscarriage was called a blighted ovum or anembryonic pregnancy which occurs when either a chromosomal anomaly develops or the cell division process fails; the embryo does not develop into a fetus and the amniotic sac continues to grow and develop without realizing it lost the human cargo. The monitor was empty. We never heard a heart beat or saw our child. Because my body hadn’t naturally shed the uterine lining I needed to have a D&C, dilation and curettage, to officially terminate the pregnancy. My husband can tell you that he has never felt as lost and cheated to this day. His heart was ripped out of his rib cage and stomped on, and he could do nothing to make his pain or mine subside. Saying we felt like failures doesn’t even begin to describe it. As the oldest kids of our respective broods, the onus of being perfect and of making our parents grandparents was part of our self worth and esteem. We had let everybody down.
Worst of all, people started to blame me for the miscarriage to the point my husband started believing it too. I am amazed that we are still married, it almost felt like there was a strong campaign for us to get divorced and move on to other partners, as if the infertility issue was going to stay in the previous relationship. Those were dark times indeed.
Months later, life vindicated me on paper, when all the tests showed that I had a healthy reproductive system. The specialists at the fertility clinic assure me that all the organs where in tip top shape and that there shouldn’t be any problems going forward. My husband checked out too. The staff was surprised when we were back in their office a year later asking for reproductive assistance. In their professional opinion we shouldn’t have had any issues. Ironically we had to convince them to treat us!
We became those people, the desperate ones that clung to all hope that your (insert preferred deity here) decided we were fit enough to be parents; the ones who anxiously lived counting down the days to my next ovulation cycle. My husband took my basal body temperature every morning, made charts to find optimal conception windows, and asked the doctor for every piece of data that showed that having sex three times in 24 hours was not only possible but did in fact help our situation. In his defense, we had never had to perform on schedule and the frustration of timing our encounters and later on having to take a day off from work each month to run down to the clinic, started to affect our moods. The stress of the hustle was unbearable. Sex wasn’t fun anymore and we got into arguments about protocols and procedures daily. I began to dread peeing on that unholy stick of truth. It was always negative. After a few rounds of artificial insemination, I was told we had to move up to invitro. By then, we were too tired and emotionally drained to continue pouring resources and time into this venture. When you are 30 years old, the last thing you want is to be told you have to pay for the opportunity to become a parent. Financially we couldn’t swing it, our medical plan did not cover invitro, and we weren’t prepared for the emotional aftermath of walking away empty handed a second time.
After two years of trying, we decided to file this one under the losses column and we went on with our lives. The second part was so brutal mainly due to the ignorance of those around us. For such a common occurrence, miscarriage and infant loss were subjects unknown even to those expecting. We bonded with the few brave souls that freely admitted to us that they had lost a child too. These people became our brothers in combat; we were all fighting the same war against infertility. Thankfully we were not alone and in great company.
My husband was told a few times, by well meaning people, that it was good that we had lost the pregnancy because of his pending layoff and the financial burden that having a child would place on us with just one salary. To this day I wonder why people thought that was a helpful statement when to us it was cruel and unkind. We couldn’t care less about the money; we wanted to see our baby’s smile, to feel its heart beating strongly in our arms. Stay at home dad was a badge he was willing to wear with pride. The hardest part was addressing the probing questions of strangers at baby showers about why we didn’t have children. Some were left with egg in their face when they realized that accusing us of not having kids and being selfish was not why we had answered no.
A typical exchange went like this:
Q: Why don’t you have kids? You are young and successful. It is a shame that you haven’t already brought a child into this world, is not like you can’t afford it!
A: We had a miscarriage. After trying for a year we were diagnosed with infertility problems and told that the only way to have a child was to use invitro which we can’t afford.
Q: I’m so sorry. Don’t worry, this is all part of God’s plan. Your time will come when you least expect it.
A: (Internally) @#$& you!
If it wasn’t in the cards for us, we wouldn’t force our hand. God or no God, we were done waiting for our time to come.
As my friends with rainbow babies (those born after a miscarriage) will tell you, the pain of losing a child and the potential to be parents is felt regardless of how many kids you have and it compounds when you have miscarried repeatedly. You become a high risk patient, and even if an ultrasound finally confirms you are pregnant, you will not get excited until you have the bundle of joy at home. The previous loss clouds the happiness of the next experience as you start fearing this one will be taken from you as well. I’m still waiting for my rainbow, and many of my friends are too. Power to you ladies. Never give up, never surrender.
Through my many conversations with women and men about having children, I have stumbled upon a few that had normal pregnancies and healthy babies but still lost their child. Be it disease, SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) or a congenital problem, one day they were playing with their kid and the next day they were planning funerals. I came to realize that the problem with pregnancy and infant loss is that no one can see it. There is nothing in your appearance or demeanor that would hint that you have gone through such a difficult and life changing experience. Like many victims of abuse and adversity, the scars are internal. Our pain can become a burden to the very people that care about us since there is nothing they can do to cheer us up and make us feel whole again. If you happen to be one of those people, the ones that have no idea how to cheer up your friends, I suggest you listen to them and do your best to get educated on the subject. Don’t offer up solutions you saw on TV or heard from another person. Provide emotional support and keep your opinions to yourself when they decide not to adopt or to stop trying.
Telling them that they deserve to be parents because they are excellent people doesn’t help; they most likely know that and can’t understand why they are being skipped over for this honor.
My heart goes out to those who are still trying; to the ones who lost their baby boy or girl and still hold them close to their hearts and keep them alive in their memories. No one should think a woman’s worth is measured by her potential to be a mother and no husband or wife should ever have to defend his or her decision of marrying for love and not for procreation. A couple with a commitment to each other is a family; you don’t need heirs to prove this and no one should tell you otherwise! (If they do send them my way and I will take care of them…)
One last thing, don’t put all the pressure on childless couples to adopt; people with children can adopt as well and if all the couples with kids adopted, there would be so much less wards of the state. And if you are tempted to ask a couple if they have children, don’t! If they have kids, they will eventually tell you. That’s what #gopinkandblue is all about, making people aware that the struggle is real. We don’t want your pity or your well wishes; we just want you to understand that not everyone gets a happy ending to their story.
1Infertility statistics source: http://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/infertility/