My Story, Part 3: Fertility
One of the first things I noticed about my husband is how good he is with kids. He’s like the Pied Piper: any children around instantly flock to him. If their parents leave… if their parents offer food… a favorite toy… none of it matters. Kids just want to spend time with Sean.
I’d always wanted a family but also felt it would be all right with me if it didn’t work out. I didn’t want kids in the visceral way I’d observed in some of my friends. But when I met Sean, I remember saying to him very early on, “I can’t wait to make you a father.” I could very easily picture us having a family together. I knew it was a dream of his and I wanted to make it come true for him.
I was 33 when we got married, so Sean and I started trying for a baby even before the wedding (!). I said I’d just get a different style dress if I needed to. We weren’t concerned about what anyone thought; we just would have been over the moon happy if blessed with a family.
When the wedding came and went, that’s when we really started to feel eager and wonder why things weren’t moving along for us. But of course, they make you wait until you’ve been trying for a year with no luck before a fertility specialist will see you, so that’s what we did. A year after I moved to join Sean in Wisconsin, we had our first appointment. Then followed another year of tests and doctor visits—of course, none of it covered by insurance. Thousands of dollars spent… time, discomfort, even pain. (If you don’t know what a hysterosalpingogram is, I hope you never have to find out.) It seemed downright ridiculous to me that we would be paying our hard-earned money to have these awful experiences. It seemed like they should be paying us! Fortunately, most of our doctors were skilled, professional, and above all, kind. It helped to make a miserable experience something closer to tolerable.
After being poked, prodded, and invaded with all manner of instruments over the course of a year and many appointments, our doctor finally settled on a probable cause: a condition called endometriosis. With this condition, the type of cells normally found in the uterine lining grow outside the uterus, elsewhere in the abdominal cavity. These wayward cells bleed and shed each month just like the lining of the uterus, but there is nowhere for this tissue to go, so it stays in the abdomen and hardens into scar tissue. The wayward tissue also leaks substances that are toxic to a growing embryo. We learned that it was likely I’d been pregnant but it had failed to implant or had died prior to my even missing a period.
When I learned this, I felt betrayed—first by my body, and then by my doctors. The human body has evolved for fertility, often against people’s best attempts to prevent it—yet in my body, the opposite was true. I wasn’t entirely surprised, because my own mother had this same condition—BUT I had asked two gynecologists, several years apart, if they thought I had this condition, and the answer in both instances was a resounding no. I still don’t understand why they were so certain. If they’d told me years ago that I might have endometriosis, I don’t think it would have taken a full year of tests for somebody to realize that this was the cause of our issues, because I would have suggested it to the doctor on our first visit.
During the two years we spent trying and hoping, I had made many, many lifestyle and nutritional changes that I read about in books or which were suggested to me by friends (some of who had had their own fertility problems before successfully getting pregnant). I eliminated sugar and gluten from my diet. I gave up coffee and alcohol. I started eating organic everything and using organic personal care products to eliminate endocrine disruptors from my diet and anything I was putting on my skin. I drank tea made of herbs believed to improve fertility. I ate lots of organic, grass-fed animal protein to help create a hospitable intrauterine environment. I even ate organ meats such as liver and heart for their rich vitamin and mineral content. It’s tempting, now, to say that none of it mattered. The truth is that it probably made me healthier, and made my body a healthier home for the baby I still believe I’ll eventually nurture. But it is frustrating and disappointing to know that no matter how many dietary changes I made, I probably wouldn’t have gotten pregnant.
It’s hard not to feel defeated, defective, like I failed. Like there was something I might have done differently over the years (Better diet? More yoga? More sleep?) so the endometriosis wouldn’t have grown inside me. If you search on the Internet, you can read all sorts of theories about why endometriosis develops. It’s because of sexual abuse. No, it’s because you don’t express yourself verbally, but instead hold in your emotions and opinions. No, it’s because you ate non-organic produce. No, it’s because you have too much stress in your life. No, it’s because you practiced inversions (upside-down yoga poses like headstand and shoulderstand) when you had your period. (For the record, I didn’t.) The truth is, scientists don’t know why endometriosis develops. Anyone who tries to tell you otherwise is mistaken.
I am scheduled to have endometriosis removal surgery in one week. Please wish me luck. I will keep you all posted here and on my Facebook page. I don’t understand why there is a taboo in our society regarding talking about infertility. Perhaps it’s because we do still view people who have a hard time getting pregnant as somehow defective, and we believe that it’s somehow their own fault. We fear that it could happen to us, so we blame the victim so that we can feel safe—it won’t happen to us if we believe it is preventable. Well, whenever I’ve told anyone that I have endometriosis, almost without fail they know somebody else that also had it. It’s much more common than most people realize. If we can’t explain it or cure it, at least we can talk about it, learn from each other’s experiences, and find comfort in community.