Our sons Boone and Wyatt came into our lives because of fertility treatments. We used the invasive techniques and medicines because we had trouble maintaining a pregnancy. And when I say trouble, I mean trouble -- three specialists on two coasts over seven years, multiple failed attempts, five recorded miscarriages, plus at least two more that didn't even make it to the stage where it could be considered a miscarriage. But believe me, they were miscarriages.
The extremely frustrating thing about it was nobody could tell us what was wrong. We baffled all the doctors to whom we were paying bucketfuls of money. I checked out OK, my wife checked out OK. We had no trouble getting pregnant. We had trouble staying pregnant.
We joined a support group for couples struggling with the same physical and emotional issues. In our meetings, the counselor taught us to try to manage our stress, to breathe.
Aside from essentially mourning a death or two each year, coping with infertility was -- and is -- a lonely, lonely place. Even if you're fortunate enough to see the glimmers of humor in the terrible situation, you can't share them with anybody because if they haven't gone through it, they simply don't understand the depth of the depression you have to fight out of every day. And if they have been through it, they don't want to hear other people bleating about it, too. Sword, thou art double-edged.
In fact, if you have a friend or family member dealing with fertility issues, here's a handy list of things you should never, ever say to them:
- "You guys just need to relax."
- "You guys just need to go on a vacation."
- "You guys just need to get drunk and screw."
- "My sister had trouble getting pregnant, now she has two beautiful kids."
- "Have you thought about adopting?"
For the record, that last one shouldn't be mentioned, because adoption is not a solution to infertility. It is a solution to wanting to be a parent. While one does affect the other, they are not the same. Also for the record, my wife and I did look into adoption, but not as a replacement for a child we couldn't have. All the other items in the above list shouldn't be mentioned because they are non-medical solutions to a medical problem. You wouldn't tell a person with cancer that they just need to go on vacation. Don't be an idiot.
All that said, stress factors in. As the support group taught us, stress affects the body and can make it hard to get or stay pregnant. Of course, if you have trouble getting or staying pregnant, that's stressful. Hello again, sword. Throughout it all, I continued to practice my breathing, trying not to grit my teeth and quietly explode at the universe for saddling us with a biologically useless roadblock.
The entire struggle left us feeling so untethered from friends and family that I desperately searched for ways to convey what we were going through. Eventually, I wrote a movie based on our experiences called More Than Stars (pictured below), which welcomes viewers into the comically dehumanizing and occasionally hopeless process of fertility treatments. But, a successful pregnancy eluded us. And as our journey continued, our friends in the support group got pregnant. They stopped coming, then they stopped calling. As veterans, my wife and I served as official peer counselors for new members.
Then, as inexplicably as our previous IVF cycles failed, one of them simply worked. No one flipped a magic switch, no miracle drug appeared. On what we agreed would be our last attempt, two embryos simply stuck around. I joke about it with my wife, but it does bother me a bit that neither one of us was even in the room when my guys were technically conceived. So, when I'm feeling smart-alecky and people tell me God blessed me with two beautiful boys, I correct them by saying, "Well, God, our checkbook and Dr. Rosen blessed us with these boys."
If you're going through this now, please know you're not alone. There are people all around you who deal with this in silence, just like you. It sucks, but you'll be okay. Stay strong. Have hope. Breathe.
(A version of this post originally appeared on The Daddy Complex.)