It was the dream I mourned the most when I heard the news. I'd taken the dream for granted, assumed it was a given. It was part of the master plan, the script I'd read and revised a thousand times, the movie emblazoned on the backs of my eyelids. We won't be part of the statistics, I'd tell myself. We live healthy lives. We eat right, exercise regularly, get our eight hours on most nights, use organic and all-natural products... and, of course, there was the dream. The one that doubt had not yet tainted.
The dream went a little like this: There'd be a twinge. A feeling. I can just tell. A stomach full of butterflies as I wait for the test results. The uncontainable excitement when I see the second line. Running to Bobby to shove the stick in his face so he can see for himself. We're going to be parents. We did it. Jumping on the bed, dancing, crying, plotting how we'll share the news with our family and friends. A boy or girl? What will we name it? A nursery to decorate!
The first few months were fun in all the ways you'd expect trying for a baby to be fun: the planning, the daydreaming, the trying. The first negative test was upsetting, but only fleetingly. It's only the first month. Most people don't get pregnant that quickly. Onto the next! Two, three, four months went by and the excitement built, the hope never waned. At five months though, what was once a brief sadness of another negative test, another period, became a gut punch. It was around this time that I got the feeling that something wasn't right. Not quite wrong... but off. Despite all the studies that show many healthy couples take up to a year to conceive, I just knew. Something isn't right. The thought worried at the back of my brain with each failed cycle, but I forced myself to ignore it. Not us. It won't happen to us.
It was somewhere around the sixth or seventh month that we decided it was time to investigate. With the exception of a brief scare on my side that was the result of a doctor misinterpreting my hormone test results, all signs pointed to things working well in my reproductive system. I had even undergone an ultrasound months earlier, for unrelated reasons, the results of which led my OBGYN to assure me that I was "very fertile."
The next step was for Bobby to see a urologist. His first semen analysis showed that all of his numbers (count, motility, volume, etc.) were at or above normal, except for one: morphology. Morphology has to do with the shape of sperm and, therefore, its ability to penetrate the egg. A normal morphology range is 4-14%, meaning that's the percentage of "normal" shaped sperm a man has to have to be considered fertile. Bobby's was 0%. He also had white blood cells present in his sample, which the doctor thought could be the cause of the morphology issue. He was put on a round of antibiotics and an anti-inflammatory to try to kick any underlying problems. We left with a plan, a follow-up appointment for six weeks later, and - outwardly, at least - hope. Recently, we admitted to each other that we both had a terrible, gnawing feeling from that point on. Some things you just know. And we knew, although neither of us said so, aloud, just yet. We put on our brave faces - for ourselves, for each other, and for the few people around us who knew what was going on - and followed the doctor's protocol. And we waited. Lots of waiting.
The next appointment with the urologist showed that nearly every single one of Bobby's numbers improved, except his morphology. Still 0%. But the doctor felt hopeful that, because the treatment had improved every other aspect of Bobby's sample, another round could move the needle on his morphology. More prescriptions. More brave faces. More waiting.
In December, right before a holiday trip Italy, we went back to the urologist to see if the second round of treatment worked. I had a pit in my stomach the whole night before and the morning leading up to the appointment. We had tried everything - medications, supplements, vitamins, dietary changes - and, despite my gut telling me otherwise, I found myself hopeful. We had even joked about how we could make our "miracle Christmas baby" on our trip. Bobby produced his sample, and we waited... and waited. Infertility, which no one tells you, ever, anywhere, requires more patience than you ever thought you could muster. Finally we sat down with the doctor.
Every single number improved.
We were given the diagnosis of male-factor infertility that left us with no option but IVF with ICSI (an additional procedure in which the sperm is injected directly into the egg before being transferred back into the uterus). We were, officially, a statistic. We were infertile. And so, off to the fertility specialists we go.
Hearing the i-word is devastating for so many reasons. There's the fear that you may never have a child of your own, made with your DNA. I wonder if I'll ever get to see what our child would look like, sound like, be like. I fear that I'll never get to experience pregnancy and delivery. I worried then, and still do now, about how Bobby was taking the news; seeing the person you love most in the world in pain, especially when there's nothing you can do about it, is excruciating (but more on that another time). And then there was the dream. It seems trivial to someone who hasn't experienced it, but knowing my pregnancy journey wouldn't be anything like I envisioned is gut-wrenching. Even if I do get pregnant with IVF, all the fun and romance has been zapped from the entire experience. It's now going to be so clinical, involving doctors, nurses, technicians, anesthesiologists, coordinators, insurance companies, pharmacies, and a million other people who don't belong in our bed. And there is no guarantee that, even after all that, we'll end up with a baby. That was the day I lost the dream. And I cried for so many reasons, but also for the dream.
The thing that no one tells you about infertility is how incredibly isolating it can be. There's a certain stigma with infertility, even now, that keeps those who experience it always on the outside. No matter how many listening ears you have, unless those people have experienced it themselves, they simply can't understand how it feels. At some point, you begin to feel like your infertility is a burden to everyone around you, no matter how wonderful, supportive, and good-intentioned they are or what they say to the contrary. You don't want to upset your parents, who will be upset simply because a child's pain is the parent's pain, too. You don't want your friends to feel awkward or unsure of how to respond. If your partner is the one with the infertility diagnosis, you don't want them to feel responsible. This deeply emotional experience devolves into a series of strictly medical and progress updates devoid of any emotion at all. And once you begin to have trouble, it feels like everyone around you is suddenly getting pregnant. You don't want to diminish their joy with your pain, so you smile, and tell them how happy you are - and you are happy for them. You're just also devastated for yourself.
And you feel so very isolated.
That's where we are today. Alone, but together in our loneliness, which you come to find is something incredibly special, in a way. The only silver lining in this process so far has been that it has, in so many weird and unexpected ways, brought Bobby and me closer. It's proven to me that infertility sucks (like, big time), but there's no other man in the entire universe that I could go through something like this with. So there's that. And the sadness and loneliness, too, but love has a way of outshining them both just when you need it most. Love will get us through this, whatever the outcome.