Infertility is a word that I never really thought much about until I was in the middle of it. You would hear every so often of families that were faced with infertility and often would either end up with their own child further down the road, adopt, or just not have children at all. Before being faced with it, it was mostly just a story you would hear about in the background of everything else going on in life. I felt bad for those going through it, but it seemed like an awkward subject to get involved in. Now I am in the middle of it, and it isn’t anything like what I thought it would be.
To start, men and women have different experiences through infertility. I won’t even try to act like I understand what women go through, but women may never understand what men go through either. I am hoping to explain what I have gone through at least to some extent so that others might get a glimpse into the other side of the fence at least in my experience with it.
My experience with infertility mainly is based on my wife’s experiences, since most of my life now that I am married is lived through her. When she is sad, I feel her sadness. I feel responsible (even if I didn’t cause it), and I feel deep emotional pain that I can’t really describe. When I see her cry, I feel an absolute and real need to resolve whatever made her cry; and then make her happy. Anything less than fixing the issue and making her happy means that I have failed in my purpose as her husband; I have failed my expectations as a man; I have failed my Heavenly Father who entrusted me with her; and I have failed myself and feel ashamed. If I can’t provide for the basic needs of my wife, what else matters? It sounds dramatic, but infertility is a dramatic experience and especially dramatic for my wife (and therefore me).
My experience with children and infertility, emotionally, started for me long before we were married. I was raised with young siblings from the time I can remember and involved as the oldest with raising them. I grew up with both young siblings and young cousins and knew a lot of what to expect when it came to children. Of course I also knew very little at best about being a father, but I could say that I could understand children to some extent. When we decided to have children, I was nervous to be on the other side of the fence (as any first time father is), but was even more excited to be able to fulfill part of my purpose in life as a father.
Time went by and we started to realize that something wasn’t normal. We knew that some couples took a long time to have their first child, but that didn’t seem to be the issue. We felt something wasn’t going right. I can’t describe it, and it wasn’t a big or alarming thing at the time, but it would soon play a big role in all of this.
We got married in the summer, and as the months went by for me, I started school and my main focus changed from having children to providing for my family (through getting an education that would provide a secure income someday). My wife and I started to get into her new job and it was a small moment of distraction from the problem we were about to face. Nobody knows what they are about to go through during this step since they barely know that they are having a problem.
It was a few months after this time that it started hitting us in waves. Each wave hits harder and harder as time goes on. Some only have to face a few of these waves before they have children and think they understand what the following waves are, but they can’t really know.
Our first wave came when the word infertility was first mentioned. It was something that I never thought I would hear in my marriage. It took me off guard and made me start to really think. Accepting you have a problem is hard. It is even harder when you know nothing about how to fix it. That is when we started doing research on the subject (which is surprisingly hard for me since there are no helpful articles from a man’s perspective or very many examples of men fighting through it. I started learning about the miracle of childbirth more than I ever had before. I used to only really know the general birds and bees explanation and what little I learned in school on reproduction. It was hard trying to figure out on your own what was going on and how to solve it when it is a miracle to start with. It is also awkward at first since most of the process occurs after the men do their part. I learned more about reproduction than I ever wanted to know.
The second wave was the hardest. This wave isn’t felt by all who go through infertility and many will go through infertility without ever facing it. It started with exciting news that my wife was pregnant! It was so wonderful to see the glow in her eyes as she told me. We tested multiple times and even took pictures of the tests to show that we were definitely pregnant. My wife seemed overjoyed and started planning for the baby. I think seeing her so happy, watching her so relieved that we didn’t have a problem and seeing her so excited would later hurt the most …it hurts so much now to remember the joy for finally having something so important to her. Bad news soon followed.
This part was such a blur to me. I was busy in school and work and only remember this in parts. I will leave it to my wife to give the order of things.
During this time, I just remember one hard experience after another. I remember my wife at one point mentioning to me that she was getting cramps and spotting. We were nervous that things might be going wrong, but we were hopeful that things would go well. I then remember my wife letting me know that she was miscarrying. After getting a glimpse of what it would be like to have a baby and getting so close, it all fell apart in an instant. We struggled and worked to pick up the pieces. I wouldn’t wish miscarriage on anyone, especially those struggling with infertility.
We soon discovered that it wasn’t the end of the story. My wife texted me during church, which I didn’t think was just going to be an update on how she was feeling. She had stayed home because wasn’t feeling very good. I was a little worried but thought that it was something to do with the aftermath of the miscarriage or something. The text let me know how wrong I was. She told me she was in a lot of pain and could barely stand up, and wanting me to come home right away. I ran as fast as I could from the church to the house (being out of shape and having exercise induced asthma didn’t help and made it very hard to breath). I didn’t even make it home by the time her parents had gotten to her and picked me up on the way. I was physically hurting but happy to be with my wife. It was hard to see her in so much pain and I felt hopeless to help. We drove to the doctor’s office where the doctors checked her out. We found out later that she was going through an ectopic pregnancy. This meant to us that there were probably twins and we had only lost the first child. The second was stuck in her tubes and would need to be removed. My wife told me that if they didn’t end the ectopic pregnancy, that it could kill her. After some more appointments to the doctor/hospital, they decided to give her a chemotherapy shot to end the pregnancy. I had no idea how serious ectopic pregnancies were at first. Now I do. I remember getting calls during school with more and more bad news leading up to this point. Each call was so hard to take in and made going to class and doing work so difficult. Who cares about rules of accounting and writing business papers when your wife is getting chemotherapy shots at the hospital to terminate your child right after a miscarriage?
Soon the doctors were able to confirm that the chemotherapy worked and everything was okay. “Okay” is something I wasn’t really familiar with at this point, but I trusted the doctors and………..what? What do you do then? How are you supposed to handle life normally after that? What are you going to do tomorrow that will really mean anything? You just lost two babies through the eyes of your suffering wife. You couldn’t fix it. You couldn’t help. You can only just go through the motions of the day and act like it means something to you. Wake up…face the feelings of pain…go to work…go to school…come home…face the pain in your wife’s eyes…work on homework…go to bed…wake up…start again. It follows you wherever you go. You get distracted from time to time, but it is quick to return. I have learned that smiles are sometimes another form of tears; another way to handle the pain.
It may have been bearable, except for the fact that we still were struggling with infertility through it all. We keep trying to have faith that it will come, but this may have been our only experience with pregnancy or having children for a long time. This would later become a reality.
We soon found ourselves wanting to really put effort into it again. We started doing more research, and soon found ourselves going to an OBGYN to see what they would recommend. They did tests and decided that we should do a surgery to find if there was something wrong physically with the inside of my wife’s body. We scheduled the appointment and got ourselves as ready as we could. She was nervous and so was I. I can’t stress how much I don’t want her to be in pain. It hurts me to watch her hurting. Again, nothing I could do. I gave her to the doctors trusting that she would be okay with them and hoping that they could give her the answers she wanted that would make her happier (since it would give us a direction to go or fix the problem all together). Just a thought, they really need to get comfortable chairs in the waiting room… just saying. That and something to actually get your mind off of the updates screen.
Time passed and the doctor came to tell me what he found. I prepared myself for a lot of things, but he surprised me. “Nothing is wrong”. He didn’t find anything wrong at all. He said everything was normal and there was nothing he could find that would physically cause a problem (no growths, bumps, or other things I can’t recall off the top of my head that he was looking for). Well…that is… good? Now what? When the doctor tells you there is nothing wrong when something is wrong…it is hard to figure out what to do. If everything should be working fine and looks good, then why isn’t it? To say the least, I had to tell her. I had to take the hope in her eyes, crush it, and see that familiar pain take its place again. It takes so long to build hope during infertility, and I can’t describe how hard it is to watch all the work and time that was put into that hope suddenly vanish. It is an empty feeling.
So many more months went by. Wake up… go to work…come home… go to bed…wake up…start again. My wife did more research into what the next steps should be. We ended up finding an infertility doctor that has had a lot of success with helping people have children. Our first appointment was very helpful with Dr. Foulk. He explained everything to us, and it made sense. We talked about our plans for getting pregnant. We would do IUI treatments. At first, we understood that we only had to do one at a time and could take breaks in between. We ended up finding out that it was best to do them in groups of three. That was unexpected to us both emotionally and financially. We saved our money and made it work. We ended up doing one group of three IUI treatments with no success. The next group of treatments would be more expensive to go through, so we would have to save up.
More months went by. My wife started a business on the side making quiet books so we could pay for the next treatments. She has been able to find success up to this point in making them. It has become a good distraction (something to work on) until we are able to afford the next steps. I have learned that it is important to find distractions, or things to work on, during hard times.
We also ran into an emotional time when we hit our year mark since losing the twins in the ectopic pregnancy and miscarriage. That was hard to go through, especially for my wife.
So that brings us up to today. We are still working hard to save up for the infertility and hoping for the future. It’s still hard to feel like I can’t just fix it, but I know that together, we will someday make it through.