Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Dark Side of the Moon


I've had my blog up & running for a few months now but I've never really gone into depth about my infertility journey. I think I've been avoiding it, to be honest. I've told my story so many times and I've come across so many other infertility stories in the meantime. For some reason, my story just seems so insignificant now. However, it is a crucial part of me. So, here it goes just for the record.

I was an 80s bride. You know what that means, don't you? Yup! We're talking extravagant hair-do & shoulder pads...the works! You won't find any wedding photos on show in my house. The strongest memory I have of that day was during the reception when my husband kept asking "Can we go now?" I'd nudge him saying, "Shhh! Of course not! We're the hosts of the show so we're here till the final curtain". "Shit!" was what I got in reply. My words exactly, while he was worrying about his sore feet and getting the hell out of there, all I could think about was getting this man into the sack. There was a broken record playing in my head "Make baby! Make baby! Make baby!"

I don't know why in the world I was in such a hurry to enter the gates of motherhood. I was just a kid myself. It still blows my mind when I think about how easily I was talked into marriage at 20. Jeez! I was just a kid pretending to be all grown-up. Well, it was a hell of a good-looking guy who did the talking, so that probably explains it. My husband didn't want to contemplate the idea of becoming a father just yet. He said we were still young and had miles to travel before actually settling down. "Aha. Aha" was he got from me. Sucker! There was absolutely no way I'd be going on birth control. No siree, that wasn't part of my big plan. And what he didn't know wouldn't hurt him. Oops, accidents happen.

Although I was dead set on getting pregnant, at this stage I wasn't obsessed yet with my cycle. I really didn't know how it all worked inside. I don't think I even knew what tubes were at the time. Ha! Ha! Ha! Joke was on me later on. I was quite irregular at the time and never really knew when to expect my period. But there came a time when period cramps were just unbearable and, together with very heavy bleeding, I knew something wasn't right. The pain was so bad that I had to go running to my obgyn. Had a scan done and with it came the news of miscarriage. Strike one! I can't really say I was heartbroken, though. A little sad & disappointed, perhaps. First of all, I only found out I was pregnant after the loss, so no bonding had taken place yet; and second, pregnancy loss was part of the stories that ran in my family. My mom and aunt had both lost their first child. For me it was just something completely normal. I thought of it as nature's trial run for the real thing. However, the miscarriage wasn't dealt with properly and I ended up with a bad infection that, years later, I suspected had damaged my tubes.

It was at this point that my husband actually started bringing up the idea of building a family. I think that miscarriage triggered something inside him. So that's when obsession kicked in and started taking over my life. First, I needed to find out how this machine actually worked (and what tubes were needed for). I started mapping my cycle and charting my graph. Man, I hated sticking that thermometer up my rear end every morning. Then came scheduled sex. My husband thought it was actually quite cool. He got a kick out of my phone calls "Get your ass over here this minute. SEX!" He'd come home with a huge grin on his face. And I tell you, albeit the clinical side to it, we had a great mid-cycle sex life.

But months started going by and nothing. I began to worry and asked my new obgyn to run some tests. Now, this is when the fun actually begins. When looking back now I still have fits of laughter when I recall some of the things I had to go through. There was no humour in it at the time, though. I had to go for a hysterosalpingogram, which I had no idea what that was about, let alone how to even pronounce the damn word. First diagnosis: a blocked tube! This is when I'm finally getting to understand this important piece of machinery. Doctor says it's no big deal and schedules surgery. Tube is unblocked and while they were poking my insides, they found an ovarian cyst which had to be removed together with half my ovary. Post-op wasn't great but I survived. My brother-in-law, who's a doctor at the hospital, would sneak me in ice-creams in the middle of the night.

Meanwhile, my doc gave six months after recovery to get knocked up before moving on to more sophisticated procedures and put me on clomid to speed things up. But nothing happened. And this is when I start getting a little nervous. Things are not at all working out as I planned and I'm in my mid-twenties by now. So, my doc referred me to infertility specialists in the hospital. But things here in Portugal are so slow working. There I had to repeat all the tests I'd already done and a few more, like cariotypes. And I had to repeat the bloody hysterosalpingogram for the 5th time! Everything came out fine and diagnosis was unexplained infertility.

As everything seemed to be up & running, the doctor scheduled me for an artificial insemination. I don't believe in beginner's luck and was prepared to go through the procedure a couple of times before hitting jackpot. But I hit jackpot the first time round. I was pregnant with my first insemination. Oh the joy! Got on the phone and announced my pregnancy to the world. A few days later spotting started, together with cramps. Rushed to the hospital but all seemed to be fine on the scan except for a cyst. Complete bedrest were doctor's orders and weekly scans. Spotting continued but pain kept getting worse & worse and that bothered me most. According to doctors, baby was fine but cyst was growing at the same rate as the embryo. Somehow that triggered a thought in my me. I made some calls to doctor friends in Canada and did some follow-up reading. I had all the symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy. Doctors at the hospital told me I was crazy, the baby came up on the scan where it was supposed to be. But I knew something was not right. At 8 weeks I lost my baby. That was a heavy blow. My whole world turned upside down.

But weeks went by and the cramps continued, stronger each day. By now I'm totally convinced I have an ectopic pregnancy. Infertility doctors still don't take me seriously but onde day I stormed into the sonogram room in obstetrics and demanded that another doctor ran a scan to check my suspicions. He, too, thought I was completely bonkers but decided to humour this madwoman. Scan confirmed ectopic! I had had right from the start a heterotopic pregnancy, something very rare. I was 12 weeks at the time and my life was at risk. Emergency surgery and I lost my tube. I was devastated.

Doctors attempted 2 more inseminations before moving on to IVF. By this time infertility is already taking a toll on my life. My husband and I decided that we didn't want to spend our lives in the cold waiting room of a hospital so we set a limit. Just like baseball, three strikes and we're out. Three was our limit. After 2 unsuccessful IVF cycles, we decided to sign up for adoption. I was ready to face other options to motherhood.

After visiting an orphanage while on holiday, I couldn't believe it when I discovered I was pregnant. Double joy! The two lines on the pregnancy test & no help from science. A lot more cautious this time, but also very hopeful. A week later spotting begins, together with those cramps that I knew all too well. Off to hospital already knowing what the outcome would be. A difficult diagnosis because the embryo couldn't be located through the scan, but eventually my fears would be confirmed. A second ectopic. Emergency surgery and the loss of second and only tube. My world fell to pieces. My life was meaningless. It was the biggest blow I'd ever suffered.

After the grieving and healing, I headed for my third and last IVF. I was ready for the Last Waltz. That was it for me cuz I just couldn't take anymore of it. My ovaries responded poorly, producing only 2 eggs and only one fertilising. I was ready to say goodbye to the whole team when I went back for the pregnancy test. But nothing had prepared me for the turn of events. I was pregnant! The doctor had actually "knocked me up"! OMG! Panic! Fear! Insecurity! I never thought I would survive that pregnancy after all that I had been through.

But nature called a truce and I had a dream pregnancy. All went well from beginning to end. And today I have the most gorgeous, sweetest boy I could ever have wanted. I went though hell! But I made it to the other side.

I'll never forget the dark side of the moon. The pain, the uncertainty, the loneliness. Those memories still haunt me and they are what keep me going in my work for the Portuguese Fertility Association, where I set up a nation-wide network of support groups. I now fight to help other couples make it to the other side.
Man, does infertility ever suck!


1 comment:

Martha said...

Thank you so much for sharing your story of growing your family. I had a M/C at 8 weeks and IF was part of my family history with my mom having lost one tube/ovary due to ruptured appendix as a teen. I've been blessed (occasionally tormented) with two sons (13 and 10 years), worked as RN with Peds/ART, and love, love, love Toronto and Thousand Islands. Portugal looks beautiful too. Thanks so much for sharing, best to you and yours. P.S. You do get used to earthquakes and have all your stuff latched down.