I don’t think I’m unique in saying that I spent my teens and early twenties obsessively worrying about an accidental pregnancy and therefore enacting all of the necessary precautions, and then some (think: plan A, B, and C). I had a picture of my life and being the true-to-scale Type A personality that I am, I would follow it to perfection: Graduate college, get a job, meet a guy, fall in love with said guy, get married, buy a home, start a family. Oh and dogs, I had to have two dogs. In equal parts dumb luck and ambition, I’ve somehow managed to make almost all of those things happen for myself. Almost. In a cruel twist of irony, I’ve learned in my late 20s that becoming pregnant will not come naturally to me.
If you’ve ever experienced infertility, you can understand the incredibly complex and maddening emotions that accompany the condition. If you haven’t experienced infertility, I am simultaneously ecstatic for you and completely bitter toward you. That’s the type of emotional complexity that infertility serves up hot. There have been times in my journey trying to conceive that I’ve read a pregnancy announcement and felt a surge of uninhibited joy, muddled almost immediately by crushing anger. My husband has found me in a puddle of tears as I tell him through heaving sobs how guilty I feel for a terrible thought I’ve had about someone I know who is expecting. Yes, it is as exhausting as it sounds.
Our journey to a family began casually and graduated to more intentional. I charted my BBT every morning, took daily OPK’s (most days more than once), and we made sure to have sex every other day at least. Soon, the romantic idea I’d had of bringing a child into the world from our happy marriage was traded in for a more mechanical and scientific version. And then began the poking, prodding, transvaginal ultrasounds, testing of semen samples, the painful process to clear my fallopian tubes, medications that gave me severe diarrhea and robbed me entirely of my appetite, and finally a diagnosis. Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome or PCOS for short. Sure it wasn’t a definite “no way, never” but it certainly presented a challenging road and one that we couldn’t travel without further treatment. So we added the popular drug “Clomid” to the mix. Hot flashes and mood swings, be damned.
In between all of this, the arrival of my monthly period over and over. Each month it flattened me. Each month I lost a little more hope. Each month I resigned myself to my lack of control in the only missing link on my life’s roadmap and the idea that I may never get the brood of babies I’d always hoped for. Each month I learned some hard lessons.
Nothing will ever eradicate the deep sadness that another negative pregnancy test presents or the frustration that overcomes your consciousness as you look toward another month of trying; but I have come to learn that I cannot forfeit my sanity in its entirety as my husband and I press on in our quest for a family. In keeping with my Type A tendencies, I slowly began compiling a list of things that I noticed were bringing me levity in the wake of the heartache and implementing them into a regular practice. As with any time in life when the water gets choppy, finding a life raft to cling to can be the difference between drowning and floating through to calmer waters.
I began to set goals and challenges for myself physically, as a sort of reminder that I’m not entirely powerless in my life’s direction. This summer, I registered for my first 15k (9.3 miles) and followed a strict training map to successfully compete in the race. With each week and each added mile, my confidence, ambition, optimistic outlook on life, and general mental health began to improve, subtly at first and then more and more obviously. Suddenly, another month of trying didn’t look so insurmountable, so hopeless. It looked like a hurdle we’d face together and would overcome with patience and commitment.
2. Taking Back the Time.
My husband and I decided that instead of putting our life on hold because we “might be pregnant by then” we’d reclaim this time as our own. So we began to travel. In January we explored Belize, Honduras, and Mexico. In August we rafted the Grand Canyon, hiked our way through Zion, overlooked Horseshoe Bend, and ended with a tour through Vegas. In October, we’ll venture out to La Jolla and in March, we’ll meet my parents in Aspen to ski. There is something about travel that renews the soul, reminds you how vast and beautiful the world is, and presents the bigger picture in the most sincere fashion. It also allowed my husband and I to leave behind the heaviness of what we were coping with and focus on each other. Of course, not everyone can travel extensively, but day trips to nearby cities to experience the food, drink, music, and shopping can be the perfect remedy for the no-baby-blues. Simply put, don’t let the battle of trying to conceive make you forget how to experience life.
We live just outside the Adirondacks in Upstate New York and it is one of our holy places. Hiking has become the closest thing to a cure-all that we have found. Unplugging from the pains of another baby announcement on social media, removing the background noise from our consciousness, and walking through a serenely quiet forest to reach views that man could never create, provides proof that miracles are happening every day. Mother Nature often works quietly and slowly, but she is diligent and her work is breathtaking. A perfect sentiment to remind myself to combat the frustrations of another unsuccessful month.
4. Talk. Talk, talk, talk.
I am a chronic oversharer, my husband is a chronic undersharer, and together it somehow works. But I don’t just talk to him; I seek out other women who understand the struggle of infertility through support groups, friends of friends, and sometimes in the most unexpected places like the family planning aisle of the grocery store. I have also sought refuge through therapy and writing. I have found by putting the feelings, words, thoughts, and emotions into the universe in the gentlest and kindest way that I can (okay, so it’s not always so dainty, but I try!), I’ve received amazing support in response. That can be the difference between giving up altogether and remembering there is always another month.
5. Four-Legged Love.
I am a born dog lover, it is written in my DNA. That being said, I know that’s not the case for everyone; however, I think that there is something profoundly comforting about animals that we cannot find through other avenues. On my hardest days, I cuddle up with tea and squeeze both of my big, goofy Goldendoodles on either side of me. My husband and I swear that they have some understanding of what’s going on because on these days especially, they are tender, patient, and extra loving to me. They serve as a reminder that there is always more love to give to myself, to my body, to my journey, and to the world. I’ve also been known to watch YouTube videos of sea otters, baby goats, and cats in the moments that feel the most unbearable. There is more than one way to let the innocence, unconditional love, and pure joy of animals permeate into your life.
No one can tell my husband and I when, if ever, we will conclude this journey, but it doesn’t have to define us, our relationship, or the way we spend our days. Sure, I’ll probably always engage in excessive symptom spotting, every negative test will likely knock the wind out of me for a day or so, and Facebook pregnancy announcements will always make my throat tighten. I didn’t plan this route for my husband and I, but if I have to travel it I am going to do my best to keep my hope alive, make the most of all of the moments it offers, and remember that the world is big and full of promise and nothing is ever written in stone.