I purposely didn’t post this over Mother’s Day weekend, because I didn’t want to be that person — you know, the one who “congratulates” you on running the marathon by reminding you that running isn’t all that good for you, or who quotes divorce statistics at your wedding, or wonders aloud about the calories in the birthday cake. I don’t think other people should have to hide their joy because something’s hard for me. But man, Sunday was a bitch.
You see, I’m infertile. No one really knows why, although age is probably a factor. I also have thyroid problems, although the battery of bloodwork I’ve had over the past year suggests that I’m treated appropriately and should be able to conceive, from an endocrinology perspective. My other hormonal markers are also good, for the most part — better than they have any right to be, considering that I’m old enough to have graduated from high school without owning an email address.
My husband is also fine, as far as labs go, although technically we both have a placeholder diagnosis of “male/female infertility unexplained.” No one really knows why we’ve been trying to have a baby for so long, with no luck.
Last month, we did our first IUI cycle. Also known as artificial insemination, it’s a good first-line treatment for infertility, especially if timing is an issue or if hostile cervical mucus is preventing fertilization. (I have no idea if that’s the case, or even how they would diagnose that, to be honest with you.)
This will sound naive, but I sort of thought IUI would be easy. I started off our fertility journey saying that I was willing to try almost anything — up to, but not including, IVF. This was based on several things:
- Expense. In our neck of the woods, IVF costs $20,000 per cycle, and there’s no guarantee that the first cycle (or any cycle) will work. So, you could spend $60,000 on three rounds, and wind up with nothing.
- Terror of medical procedures. When I was a kid, my appendix ruptured and was removed. Afterward, infection set in, and they had to open me back up … which they did without anesthesia. So, I’m a little nervous about invasive procedures. When our reproductive endocrinologist said the words “egg harvesting,” I literally saw spots swimming before my eyes and thought I’d pass out.
- Possibly legitimate health concerns. IVF is not without risks. Mayo Clinic has a terrifying list, including things like birth defects and ovarian cancer (although the latest studies rule that one out — but as my middle name should be “Possible Side Effects,” I’m still nervous about those early studies).
IUI, in contrast, had fewer risks: multiple births, from the Clomid, and infection from the insertion, for example. So that seemed like the one to do.
Well. First of all, nothing is easy in our healthcare system. What I had to go through to get my insurance to cover $120 worth of Clomid and Ovidrel (the trigger shot that releases the egg) would take a whole separate post, but frankly, I’ll probably never write it, because thinking about it raises my blood pressure and makes me feel like I’ll finally lose my tenuous grip on reality.
Then, once I got the drugs, I had to take them. The Clomid was easy to administer, because it’s a pill, but the side effects were gnarly. I had a headache for five days, the kind Tylenol won’t touch, and I was very aware of my ovaries in my body — something that generally doesn’t happen, and does not feel healthy and fine. Also, I was mentally ill: anxious, depressed, crying, very occasionally elated — it was like a thunderstorm of hormones in my brain.
Next, came the Ovidrel, which only took a minute, not that you’d know that by my reaction, because the shot — while subcutaneous and a very small needle — has to go in the abdomen, and as previously discussed, I’m not great with things happening to my midsection. Adam administered the shot, thank God, or I would have passed out and crashed through the coffee table like Chris Farley. He says I was the biggest baby he’s ever given a shot to, and I’m sort of proud.
“Shut up,” he said lovingly, preparing the needle. “I give like two of these a day, PER PATIENT.”
“This is terrible,” I whimpered. “If I ever have to go to the hospital, please suffocate me with a pillow.”
“No,” he said, sticking the needle in. It didn’t hurt at all.
But the worst part, the absolute worst, was the monitoring phase. Between the Clomid and the shot, the doctors watch your ovaries to see how the eggs are coming along. Your midsection doesn’t have a window, so they do this via transvaginal ultrasound. This is embarrassing, and invasive, and if you’re on Clomid, it can also hurt. (Honesty compels me to further admit that the male doctors were not as good at avoiding the cervix as the female doctors were, causing me to feel very sorry indeed for any and all potential lady partners.)
Oddly, I found it somewhat traumatizing to have strange men hurt me with a dildo every other day for 10 days or so. Throw the Clomid on top of that, and I was basically ready for the bin.
I’ve never been happier to get a phone call than I was to get the phone call from the clinic nurse, telling me that it was time for the IUI procedure. Adam and I were in Nyack, a cute little town across the river from us, eating cake pops and walking around, and my phone rang in the middle of the coffee shop.
“OK!” the nurse said. “It’s time for the shot!”
I hung up and told Adam that if it worked, we’d have to call the baby Cake Pop Luckwaldt. OK, I conceded: Cake Pop Daniel Luckwaldt. After his grandfather.
The procedure itself was no big deal: less humiliating than the ultrasounds, and about as uncomfortable as a pap smear.
But it didn’t work. The day before my blood test, I got my period. I had to run out for supplies, because I hadn’t bought any — superstition, I guess.
So now, here we are on the other side of Mother’s Day, not pregnant and not sure we ever will be. I don’t know that I have another cycle in me — the drugs were pretty rough, and the ultrasounds shredded my sanity, and let’s not even get started with another round of negotiating with insurance — and we still don’t even know what’s “wrong.” Maybe my body is rejecting implantation. Maybe our genes are a bad combo — unlike us, the actual humans, who are the best combination — and nature is wisely choosing not to combine them. We don’t know. We might not ever know.
Right now, I’m just grateful that I’m going on vacation in June, and don’t have to decide about another cycle right away. And I’m glad Mother’s Day is over for another year.