… the musings of a thirty-something, married, Southern teen librarian turned Stay-At-Home-Mom with a 14-year-old's sense of humor, an awkward spirit, and a stubborn, mouthy, redheaded country boy to accompany her through life.
I’ve been dreaming of writing this post for several years now. Having started this blog on my 25th birthday, I wondered if I’d ever make it here, still sharing my story with Future Belle and her readers. I imagined how my life would unfold over ten years. Would I ever get the job, meet the boy, buy the house, have the babies? I’m sure the overall picture is quite different in several ways, but I am undeniably happy.
You see, today I am 35 years old, a big number in the world of infertility, and I am a mother of two, soon to be three. While I never fully joined the online infertility community, I do occasionally dip my toe in and read stories from women still struggling and others who’ve survived. From the happily married and trying for years, to those still searching for love and unsure of whether they’re ready to take on single parenthood, it’s no secret that women hoping to conceive often dread and fear their 35th birthday. While we all rationally know that every body differs, we still hear echoes of generalizing doctors, aunts, and old wives’ tales warning us that if we’re not calling ourselves mothers by 35, there’s a strong chance we never will. We turn 31 and tell ourselves we have plenty of time. At 32, we get a little more anxious. At 33, we feel rushed. At 34, we start to panic. It’s positively triggering for women struggling with infertility to even think about 35.
There are so many choices in life, so many doors closed after one is opened, by the time we reach our mid-thirties. Over the years, I’ve coped with these missed opportunities through my own (probably scientifically inaccurate) interpretation of the Many-Worlds Theory. Somewhere, in a parallel universe, there is a Belle who works as a veterinarian specializing in large cats… in another, a successful travel blogger… in yet another, a respected theologist or historian. For years, I’d often slip into one of these imagined realities for a time, escaping the monotony of real life for a bit of adventure. Yet, I find myself doing so less and less often, these days. I’m not reporting a fascinating life to Instagram. My father does not live vicariously through me. I’m not a renowned academic, publishing scholarly articles. I’m not even a librarian anymore, something I’d never have imagined on the day I started this blog, ten years ago. Nope. I took the road more travel and I wouldn’t slip into one of these more interesting worlds for anything.
I’m a wife and a stay-at-home mom. My days are filled with sing-alongs, story times, and Target runs. I no longer lead meetings, attend trainings, or make schedules. The only emails I send are links for my Gramma, when she wants to buy something for my girls or the new baby. In ten years, on my 20th Blogiversary, I’ll likely be that respected professional, once again. I’ll put my master’s degree to further use and earn new anecdotal stories from my dad. Right now, though, my most wonderfully average dreams are being fulfilled. There have been several times in my life, when I’ve feared I would never have this, when this was the universe I visited. I’m happily married to my best friend, living in a home on one unremarkable acre, enjoying the most amazing days of my life to date, raising precious babies. One day, I’ll be interesting again, but here, on my no longer triggering 35th birthday, I am trulyhappy.
It’s been a good year, y’all… easier than 2021 so far, which means leagues easier than 2020. I spent the first several months of 2022 in emotional turmoil, though. As we rang in the new year, I was just beginning to feel like myself again, after the physical trauma I’d experienced during childbirth. I could officially lift the stroller into the back of our SUV without feeling short of breath. I could run errands without feeling utterly depleted. I had energy to take care of my girls, the house, and exercise. Emotionally, I no longer felt quite so fragile either. I rarely burst into tears, convinced I’d die. For the first time since July of 2020, when we began IVF treatments, I felt human. Still… Jake and I both wanted another child.
After receiving my perinatal cardiomyopathy diagnosis in the ICU two days after my girls were born, I was informed that while my heart would likely fully recover, another pregnancy would come with risk. Officially speaking, medical wisdom advised no more children, but my cardiologist eventually added that, realistically speaking, plenty of women go on to have additional pregnancies with no complications. So, Jake and I had a tough decision to make: should we count our blessings in the healthy children we were so fortunate to have or take the low, yet not non-existent, risk of another pregnancy? Considering the cost of an embryo transfer and the experience of actually going through additional pandemic fertility treatments, I was a bit of a mess. Sure, we could wait another year, but I’m turning 35 this fall, a dreaded age in the world of infertility. We didn’t want additional troubles or risks and we didn’t want to be old parents.
I’ve previously described my infertility approach as “duck, cover, and run through the fire.” As hesitant as I was to proceed with a transfer, I knew that it was a months long process. So it began in March, when I called the fertility clinic, reasoning that I could start the consultations and spend the next few months finalizing my decision. If I decided to wait, I could always cancel the arrangements, but if we chose to proceed, there’d be no delay. Requesting a possible June or July transfer, I was told to call with my period at the end of April/beginning of May.
I spent the next two months weighing my options. Some days, I was confident that another child or two would be worth the risk and all would be well. Others, I was adamant that we were done and I just didn’t have it in me to do it all again. Most of the time, my internal battle ended with the determination that this was a problem for Future Belle. I’m not sure I’ve ever been so indecisive as to repeatedly end a mental conflict with the decision to make a decision another day.
With my period due in mid-late April, the clinic called toward the end of the month to verify that I still wanted to proceed. When I informed them that I hadn’t been tracking my cycle until the previous month and didn’t know exactly when to expect it, they asked if I could be pregnant. I told them that I’d already taken a negative test, that I didn’t want to discuss the subject, and that Jake and I had been assured multiple times that a natural pregnancy was not possible. I also relayed that, when asked what birth control I planned to use, I’d told my OBGYN with confusion “Nothing? My husband can’t get me pregnant,” to which she responded “Oh, yes. I forgot. I have no problem with that.” This was from a woman who had been quite clear that she did not think I should risk more children. In response, I was simply instructed to come in for an ultrasound if I didn’t get Day One in the next couple of weeks, because I could possibly have additional complications.
The week of our five year anniversary and Mother’s Day, I decided to wait until after our celebration to schedule additional tests. The last thing I wanted to think about were more fertility problems. The entire concept was already making me nauseous. In fact, the day before our anniversary, a Thursday, I was feeling pretty unwell and resolved to make an appointment first thing Monday. I knew they’d start with another pregnancy test, something I’d desperately avoided for two weeks, not wanting to get my hopes up that the literal impossible could happen. If we were about to embark on more treatments, though, I couldn’t allow myself to be triggered by a simple pregnancy test before we even started. Annoyed, I bought a second one dollar test, thinking once again about how I’d never get the chance to be surprised by a second line and trying not to dwell on all that I’d missed out on in this process.
All that infertility takes from a couple is a frequent theme in the community. For Jake and I, it ruined our sex life for well over a year, as I’d often burst into tears, knowing we would never make a baby. It cost us over $30,000 and unquantifiable heartache. It ruined the chance of ever being surprised by a pregnancy. It caused endless stress until the moment I held my girls in my arms, which undoubtedly contributed to my complications in delivery. Those marred the first several months of my girls’ lives, as I constantly worried that I wouldn’t be around to see them grow up and, like me, they’d have to face life without a mama.
After all these losses, it seemed trivial to be disappointed that I’d never get thatmoment, when I could share my pregnancy with Jake. We had been watching Friday Night Lights, though, and over the previous months, I’d watched the scene where Tami tells Eric she’s pregnant at least a half dozen times, certain that that is exactly how Jake would react. That’s not something we would ever get, instead bonding over the far less romantic administration of subcutaneous shots and appointments to monitor my uterine lining.
That was why I’d put off taking a pregnancy test in the first place, even knowing unquestionably that it would be negative. Despite the fact that I’d gotten my family, whether it grows or not, it hurt knowing I’d never have that moment. I worried it would crush me to see a single line and remember what lie before me to get a second one. While I didn’t experience the emotional breakdown I feared, it felt idiotic to take another one after two more weeks without a period. Obviously my cycle was still regulating. My girls aren’t even a year old. Quite frankly, I didn’t want to waste another dollar on a visual representation of our inability to get pregnant the fun and free way.
When I got home, I hurriedly took the test, needing to put the girls down for their nap. I sat looking at my phone while I waited a minute for the results and worried that I was somehow starting early menopause or worse, would require a complete hysterectomy. Perhaps the whole thing was out of my hands, after all. I knew a negative after a minute was likely a negative after three minutes, so I didn’t bother to prolong the wait but… it was positive.
Another staple of the infertility community is videos of women taking pregnancy tests, hoping to capture that moment when they get a positive, so they can share it with their children one day. I wish I could say that I’d have such a heartfelt moment about which to reminisce, but I don’t think that would be appropriate.
An Influencer, I am not.
“What the fuck?!?! That is not possible.”
I called Jake at work, breathing so hard I thought I’d pass out.
Me: “Do you have to stay at work?” Jake: “Um… I don’t know. Why? Are you okay? What’s wrong” Me: “I don’t want to tell you over the phone. Can you just come by for a minute?” Jake: “Okay. I’m leaving now.”
I immediately rushed back to Dollar General, a million thoughts racing through my mind, because this couldn’t be true and yet, false positives aren’t actually a thing. They’re plot devices in teen movies and TV shows. I bought the last two $1 tests, refusing to spend real money on what was surely nothing and raced home to immediately take both. As I hyperventilated, it came to me. Perhaps I’d bought a drug test! I’d been taking mild doses of medical marijuana, via gummy, nearly every night for some time, just to sleep. I rushed to the trash can to check the box, but no. It was indeed a pregnancy test… and then it was three. They were all positive.
I was just coming out of the bathroom when Jake got home.
Jake: “Belle, the door’s locked.” I unlocked the door and sat on the bed. Jake: “Babe, what’s wrong?” Me: – clumsily shoved three tests at him – Jake: “What are these? What? You’re pregnant?” Me: “I guess so?” Jake: “That’s… cool.” Me: “This isn’t possible. This wasn’t supposed to happen. I haven’t had my echocardiogram yet. I don’t want to die! I don’t want to leave my girls!”
Jake: “Shhh… it’s okay. You’re not going to die.” Me: “They told me I couldn’t get pregnant! We have frozen embryos to use!”
This doesn’t actually happen, y’all. It’s just a story your well-meaning aunt tells, about how her best friend’s niece tried for years, took medications, did IVF, all for naught, and then, without warning, found out she was pregnant. It’s a tale told with all the other well-intentioned platitudes about how you’ll definitely get your baby, if you stop trying and just have faith… you know, because infertile people didn’t pray hard enough. It’s an anecdote that comes from people with no knowledge of infertility as a whole, let alone your individual situation. It doesn’t happen. Even the urologist used the word “miracle” when asked if Jake could get me pregnant. If my cursory viewing of House is anything to go by, medical doctors don’t throw that word around a lot.
I suppose that’s the only way to explain it: a miracle. Despite my initial reaction and attempts not to get my hopes up… I want this baby. The only thing I’ve ever wanted more was my sweet Violet and Scarlett. I was so afraid that the pregnancy wouldn’t be viable, that something would be wrong. I worried about the medical marijuana and the heart medication I had only stopped taking a month ago. I worried about Jake’s wonky sperm. I worried about my heart, not having yet gotten the okay from my cardiologist… or as much of an okay as she’d ever give. I worried about all the one in a million odds that had kicked us in our asses so far. I’m still petrified of getting sick again, of leaving my girls and a new baby, of being chronically ill for the rest of my life, despite getting the all clear from the cardiologist just a few days after I got my positive test and the reclassification from cardiomyopathy to severe preeclampsia from my high risk OB. I am, however, 19 weeks pregnant today, after a successful anatomy scan of our baby boy.
The infertility community didn’t need another obnoxious anecdote, but apparently, here I am. I apologize for my aunts in advance and refuse to share such details with strangers and further contribute to such an unhelpful narrative. I got a baby the fun and free way, though. I got the surprise pregnancy and the chance to tell my husband… and infertility still ruined it. Despite my aspirations, I am apparently no Tami Taylor and if this baby and I can stay healthy, I don’t even care.
A year ago, today, I was desperately struggling to lie on my back in an emergency room bed, as my lungs filled with fluid from sudden and severe pneumonia and my heart raced from extraordinarily rare and dangerous cardiac issues…
… oh, nostalgia.
I’m not going to rehash my birth story, considering it was quite literally the most terrifying night of my life and the beginning of an utterly traumatizing period of time… which I declare as someone who frequently scoffs at the overuse of the word “trauma.” Yet… it was entirely worth it.
When Jake and I found out we would have to pursue IVF for even a chance at children, I refused to let myself think of motherhood in any concrete terms. Why fantasize about something, when there was a real possibility that it would never happen for me? There are many different ways to approach infertility and for me, ducking my head and running through the line of fire was the only option. So it was, one year ago, I found myself in pretty dire straights, health wise, and my biggest concern, the one thing I kept asking Jake was…
“What if I don’t love them?”
I didn’t have a positive relationship with my mother after the age of seven. I didn’t have younger siblings, so I wasn’t really around small children growing up. When I realized, in my early twenties, that I simply don’t likechildren, I wasn’t sure if I should be a mother. I just wasn’t maternal, and unlike the droves of women sporting oversized organic cotton “Dog Mom” sweatshirts, I never considered my affection for my beagle to be comparable. When Jake and I decided to start a family, I just assumed that nature would override nurture and the love for my baby would occur naturally, during pregnancy. Except, that didn’t exactly happen.
After two rounds of pandemic IVF, healthy twins seemed too good to be true. My pregnancy, being a multiples pregnancy, was considered high risk from the start. So, in self-preservation, I found myself always expecting the worst. I spent every ultrasound waiting for devastating news. I put off buying baby items, fearing that I’d be stuck with heartbreaking mementos if tragedy struck. What would I do with an extra crib? Could you even return something like that? I didn’t even announce my pregnancy (or any of the events leading up to it) on my blog until after the anatomy scan at 20 weeks. I love looking back on my blog and seeing who I was at another point in time and I just couldn’t bear to see myself as an excited mother-to-be, knowing that it hadn’t ended the way I’d hoped.
I did try, of course. One of the reasons I insisted Jake agree to names early, was because I felt the disconnect. I wanted to feel close to my babies. I just couldn’t. So, on the most terrifying night of my life, my greatest fear remained… what if I didn’t love them?
I’ve had friends tell me that they feel motherhood is sugarcoated in our society and I’m just not sure what media they’re consuming. The only reviews of motherhood (parenthood as a whole, really) that I’ve read or heard in the last fifteen years told me it’s miserable, thankless, and all-consuming. When we found out we were pregnant with twins, it seemed these sentiments were amplified threefold. People in Sam’s Club would apologize to us when we said we were having twins. We were told we’d barely have time to shower, let alone enjoy time as a couple, and that we could forget alone time. Coupled with the detachment I felt to my twins on June 22, 2021, there was a real part of me that worried that I’d rushed into the decision to become a mother, simply out of fear that it might not be an option if I didn’t.
Well, here we are, one year later and I have a message for all those doomsaying parents…
I always assumed that on this day, I wouldn’t be able to believe that it had been a full year with my little girls in my life. Everyone says they grow so fast, that the days are long, but the years are short. It hasn’t felt that way at all for me. Quite the contrary, it’s felt like a lifetime, in the absolute best way. I remember life before the snuggles, giggles, smiles, tantrums, and injuries that I didn’t even see happen, but if feels like years ago. Perhaps that’s because the year and a half between being diagnosed with infertility, just before a global pandemic struck, and the birth of our twins, well… sucked. I don’t think I’m alone in the feeling that 2020 went on for a full decade, and while I miss life before the pandemic, I don’t miss life before children. I don’t miss my career, despite how I loved it. Mama is the best title I’ve ever earned and I am absolutely thrilled with my day-to-day. It is truly a shame that we speak so negatively about parenthood today, because all the worry that I wouldn’t love my girls, just because I can’t stand other people’s children, all the worry that I made a mistake and I’d never have time to myself, time alone with Jake, time with friends, was a waste of energy. This past year has been so much fun. Have I felt exhausted, frustrated, over-whelmed, and even isolated at times? Of course, but it has paled in comparison to the absolute joy I’ve experienced with my little ladies.
You were worth it, girls. You were worth the $30,000, the IVF treatments, the fear during pregnancy, the terror during delivery, the tears in the ICU, the blood transfusions, the echocardiograms, the heart medications. You are not work. You are not a burden. You are a privilege and a gift. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine how worth it all you would be, my precious twincesses.
I had a dream the other night, that I gave birth to triplets, they all died, and I didn’t know until days later, because I was so sick. Maybe it wasn’t a good idea to watch Chernobyl right after I called the fertility clinic. I suppose hindsight is 2020.
It feels like only yesterday that Jake and I got the news that we’d have to do IVF if we ever wanted a family, just before a global pandemic hit. Yet, here we are, two years later with twin girls turning one in June. I’m turning 35 in September and Jake is turning 38 in October. We have six frozen embryos.
When we started this process, we were told that having so many embryos left to freeze wasn’t a likelihood. A good IVF cycle might yield enough to try once or twice and hopefully result in as many children. After our first attempt resulted in a complete and utter failure, we’d have been happy with the latter… but that’s not what we got. We got six in the freezer.
Jake and I have always talked about having three or four children, agreeing that regardless of gender, we’d stop at four at the most. Jake is one of three and grew up surrounded by cousins and family friends. I had a fairly lonely childhood, living on 10 acres with few kids nearby. The ones who did live close, came from equally poor families, who alsolived in trailers, and my dad didn’t want us to spend time with them. Despite it having been just my brother and I, my parents encouraged a strange level of animosity between us. We didn’t just bicker. We despised each other. As a kid, I adored Nick at Nite’s Block Party Summer event, when I could binge The Brady Bunch and dream of being one of a family of eight. In high school, I secretly saw Cheaper by the Dozen in theaters multiple times, by myself, fantasizing about having 11 brothers and sisters. Today, I only even see my brother at Christmas. His nieces were six months old the first time he met them. He didn’t even call when they were born, when I was in the ICU.
As an adult, my desire for a large family never faded. I spent my twenties living it up in my single girl apartment, cuddling with the dog while watching Yours, Mine, and Ours, imagining a life with a loud, chaotic, happy home. I, quite deliberately, enjoyed being single, so I don’t think I even realized how truly lonely I had been until I married Jake. Suddenly, I didn’t have to do everything by myself, whether chores or entertainment. Five years later, every night is still a slumber party with my best friend. He filled a void I hadn’t realized existed and now, eight months in with twins, the party has only grown and I know I’m not done. While I do feel a responsibility to use as many of my embryos as I reasonably can, before donating them, I also want more children.
Y’all, being a librarian was wonderful, but being a mom is the best job I’ve ever had. I love it. I love changing diapers during changing table gymnastics, dragging babies out of the dog bed on loop, seeing little faces light up with every bite of solid food. I love celebrating every new milestone and making up songs about mundane activities. I love the meltdowns and the giggles and the ever-increasing chaos. I love the idea of having one, even two more children. If things were different, I’d probably already be pregnant. They are the way they are, however, and I don’t love the thought of going through infertility treatments to get there.
Being in our mid-thirties, Jake and I have communicated pretty regularly about when we’d like to try to get pregnant again. We’ve agreed to wait the full recommended year after my C-section and see what my cardiologist has to say on the subject. If all goes well, the plan has been to transfer another embryo this summer. Infertility, however, is a hurry up and wait game, so that means the process starts… well, now. The first step was calling the clinic. The next step will be a consult with my reproductive endocrinologist. On one had, the idea of growing our family is exciting. On the other, the idea of doing an embryo transfer during a pandemic sounds awful… and after pandemic IVF, I feel like I’m something of an authority on the matter.
When I started IVF, I told Jake that my greatest fear after failure was that it would fundamentally change me as a person, that I wouldn’t be strong enough to retain my sense of self. As I’ve shared a few times, I feel that was valid. I don’t know if I’ll ever fully recover from the toll infertility has taken… and the journey isn’t over. Am I ready for this? Am I ready for the shots, mood swings, and physical side effects? Am I ready for another pandemic pregnancy? It’ll be less stressful this time around, not working and knowing that whatever happens, I have my girls. It’ll still be a gamble of approximately $5,000 on my uterus, though. It’ll still be on me to give us another child, my girls another sibling, my embryos a chance at life. Ideally, I wouldn’t mind waiting a bit longer, but time is somewhat limited, especially with the health issues I suffered last time. Am I ready to dust off the old infertility blog? Am I ready for the pressure, the stress, the tears? I don’t know, but I wasn’t really ready the first time, so… I guess we’ll see.
A little over seven months ago, I was one month out from grieving the death of my mother, petrified that I’d never bond with my babies, hoping that over the next three weeks something would click and I’d suddenly feel connected to the lives inside of me. You see, the complicated way we had to conceive impacted my ability to attach to my unborn babies. I was perpetually afraid something would go wrong and awaiting the inevitable ultrasound where one or both little heartbeats were lost. Covid-19 complicated matters even further, as I feared contracting the illness and/or having to give birth without my husband.
As much of a planner as I am, I’ve never been one for birth plans. My only real goal for what would happen in the delivery room was that all three of us would get through safely and without complication. I’ll enter my disclaimer here and state that I truly don’t care what other women do, but coming from a line of many nurses, childbirth has always been a medical procedure for me. I didn’t care about the music playing or the lighting or having a positive energy. I had a preference for whodelivered my babies, who was in the room, and who visited after the fact. Call that a birth plan if you like, but that’s as specific as I was willing to get over something I knew I ultimately could not control. Fertility treatments just strengthened that conviction, as did a high risk twin pregnancy.
When you’re going through IVF, a lot of people look at your vagina. I’ve always been a bodily private person, but I was forced to set that aside for a full year, starting with IVF monitoring appointments in July of 2020. By the time I found myself facing a second egg retrieval, I did not care about modesty. When asked if a resident could view the procedure, I answered that they could live stream it if they could get me pregnant. In the end, there were six people in the room when my children were conceived and my husband wasn’t one of them. God and science were in their conception. God and science would be in their birth. I didn’t need it to be magical. On the contrary, I knew it would be painful, gross, and awkward. When the doctor and I discussed arrangements, I jokingly informed her that I had 28 different birth plans, one for each phase of the lunar cycle.
This feeling was, of course, exacerbated by my status as “high risk.” After exhausting amounts of research and a refusal by my doctor to insist on one or the other, I ultimately decided to schedule a C-section, but keep my mind open to a vaginal delivery if things worked out perfectly for me to have one with twins. They… did not.
Here’s a trigger warning (ends with Fozzie Bear) for references to childbirth that require a trigger warning…
June 18, 2021 was a Friday. I had my standard bi-weekly doctor’s appointment, where the doctor talked to me about how I was feeling, verified that she thought I would be able to make it to the date of my scheduled C-section, July 14, and sent a nurse in to check my vitals. When the nurse informed me that my blood pressure was high and sent me to Labor and Delivery for monitoring, I was sure this was the moment when everything would go south, particularly since she told me I might need to stay over night. I was hooked to fetal monitors and blood pressure cuffs, given a steroid shot for the babies’ lung development, and had just started to worry, when the nurses told me I could go home. My blood pressure was a little high and we’d need to keep an eye on it. I was fine, though, and would just need to come back the next day for monitoring and the other shot in my steroid course. That appointment was far less scary, with Jake by my side. My blood pressure was briefly monitored, a shot was administered, and I was sent on my way with assurances that those babies would stay put for another three and half weeks.
I spent the weekend doing chores and felt good and strong… until Monday morning, when I headed to my high-risk ultrasound at a different hospital. I’d previously been out of breath, but had assumed it was a combination of twin pregnancy, asthma, and wearing a mask at work. Monday was different, though. I was short of breath, exhausted, and my heart was racing. I didn’t think I’d make it from my car into the doctor’s office. I assumed I was getting a cold or a sinus infection, but when the tech had trouble differentiating the babies’ heartbeats, I struggled to lie on my back, because I couldn’t stop coughing. The doctor arrived and asked how I felt, to which I responded I felt like I was coming down with a cold. He assured me that I could use over-the-counter medication, so I stopped by Wal-Mart and stocked up. I didn’t want to use sick leave for the rest of the day and was determined to return to work, but since I was scheduled to do a virtual program alone at one of the satellite branches after telework ended, I decided that just this one time, no one would be the wiser (nor would my managers have cared) if I worked from home for the day. So, I watched a couple of webinars and oversaw some teenagers as they played DnD, refusing to cancel, because I knew it might be one of the last times I got to play with them. I visited the chiropractor that evening, hoping to ease my back pain and took it easy.
The next day, I woke feeling utterly miserable and called in sick to work. My back still hurt and I felt like I hadn’t slept in weeks, both of which I blamed on being 14 months pregnant with what I could only assume were Godzilla and Kong, if their movements were any indication. I tried to sleep on the couch, but couldn’t stop coughing. I knew it wasn’t Covid-19, because it wasn’t a dry cough and I had no other related symptoms. My stars I felt awful, though, so I decided a hot shower might help… like ten times.
I now realize that I was growing delirious, as I took shower after shower, hoping to ease the tightness in my back along with my coughing. As my skin grew chapped, I doused my legs in baby powder, too foggy to clean up the mess. Had Jake been home, I’m certain he’d have noticed something wasn’t right and taken me to the hospital, but as it was, he only came home for lunch and wondered about the mess. When he got home for the day, however, I told him how poorly I felt and that my heart raced every time I stood up. I asked if he’d call the hospital and we were told to come to the emergency room, just to be safe. I remember telling Jake that we’d forgotten my hospital bag and asking him to turn around.
Jake: “We won’t need the bag.” Me: “We’re gonna need the bag.”
Spoiler alert: we needed the bag.
When Jake and I arrived at the ER, where I told them I couldn’t breathe, the first thing they did was put a mask on my face. They wouldn’t test me for Covid-19, because I’d been vaccinated. Many of the nurses weren’t wearing masks, because they weren’t required to behind counters I can only assume were made of medical grade magic, but it was vitally important that the fully vaccinated massively pregnant woman who couldn’t breathe wear one “for the safety of everyone in this hospital.” I was immediately seated on an ER bed and told to lie back… a position I couldn’t maintain, because I would immediately start coughing. After a couple of hours of trying to be accommodating, I flat-out refused to lie back and sat with Jake in front of me, waving the nurse off and telling her he was there if I fell.
Much of the night following our 6:00 arrival at the ER has blurred in my memory. I was taken for a CT scan, after having an IV put in my arm, without warning that it would vibrate due to the magnets. I remember lying there, terrified because I was instructed to hold my breath and I thought I’d cough up a lung, but also because I feared the IV had been left in by mistake and would be pulled out. I wasn’t allowed water, in case I had to deliver that night and I have never been so thirsty in my life. I received an echocardiogram and was told my doctor was on her way, with reinforcements to deliver our babies in an emergency C-section.
Me: “I’m scared.” Jake: “It’ll be okay.” Me: “What if I don’t love them?”
In hindsight, the fact that I was most worried about properly loving my daughters, as opposed to my own health in this moment, was proof that I needn’t have worried about it as I was rushed to the delivery room. Another mask was put on my face, this time over an oxygen mask, so I thought I’d be okay, until I realized I still couldn’t breathe. I vaguely remember hearing the nurses say they’d forgotten to turn the oxygen on, so at least that mystery was solved.
I remember even less of what happened from there. I was briefly held in a labor and delivery room, where I was asked to change into a gown. Once again, all modesty was thrown out of the window as I stripped the XXXL Summer Reading t-shirt and maternity shorts from my massive body in a room full of nurses, who began to freely discuss whether or not I needed to be shaved. I was wheeled to an operating room, where a kind anesthesiologist did his best to calm me, as I panicked over having to lie on my back for the surgery. I have had a lot of surgeries in my life, y’all. A C-section was never really something I feared… until I thought I might drown while I was fully aware of everything that was happening. In fact, when the doctor warned me that he’d have to insert a breathing tube if I couldn’t calm down, I begged him to do just that. I only vaguely remember the spinal block as I coughed and coughed, with the anesthesiologist reassuring me that breathing would be easier once it had taken effect.
While I could breathe more easily than before, that wasn’t saying much. I lie on the table shaking from the adrenaline with an oxygen mask over my face as I coughed as best I could, numb from the waist down. I vaguely remember hearing a baby cry as my sweet Violet was brought into the world. A nurse brought Scarlett to me, so I could see her, but I was much too concerned with my own discomfort for much to register. If I’d known I wouldn’t see my girls for two more days, I might have cherished that moment a little more.
I was then rushed to the ICU, shocked that this was where they’d put me. It was only over the next few days that I would learn that I had been diagnosed with “substantial pneumonia” and perinatal cardiomyopathy, a pregnancy-induced heart condition that impacts .00001% of women in the U.S. My lungs were full of fluid. I was technically in heart failure. I’d lost over half the blood in my body, with only five units left. After two back-to-back rounds of IVF during a global pandemic, I almost died giving birth. Although I couldn’t have predicted how, the disaster I had so greatly feared had come to pass.
Over the next four days, I was given three blood transfusions and a mile long list of medications, as a team of doctors worked to regulate my heart, build up my blood supply, cure my pneumonia, and treat my surgical incision. Say what you want about the American healthcare system, but that hospital saved my life. It was the most terrifying and dehumanizing thing I’ve ever experienced, as nurses cleaned the blood from between my legs, rolled me over to give me sponge baths, and helped me use the bathroom, all while providing a constant infusion of medication and antibiotics.
I spent the first two days in darkness, since the pain medication gave me crippling headaches and caused me to relentlessly scratch my face due to the itching. While I’m not sure I was present enough to realize my girls weren’t with me that first day, the depression began to set in on day two, when I woke screaming that they’d taken my babies, that I hadn’t even gotten to hold them. Jake, who had not left my side, sleeping in the uncomfortable recliner, tried to soothe me and assure me they were alright. Still, I barely spoke, was uninterested in conversation, reading, listening to music or audiobooks, or any form of entertainment or socialization as I feared for my health and yearned to hold my girls. I finally my chance, when the nurses assembled a security team to bring them down for a visit and I was able to snuggle my precious babies for a few moments, before admitting that I was too sick to do so much longer.
On day four, I was released to labor and deliver, on the insistence of the ICU staff that they weren’t doing anything for me that couldn’t be done on another floor. One nurse adamantly insisted that I needed to be with my babies and I eagerly waited all day to be transferred, so I could have my girls in the room. The first thing I did when I arrived in the same room I’d briefly visited before my C-section, was to take a shower supervised and assisted by Jake. I desperately wanted to feel human again, but didn’t quite accomplish it over the next three days, constantly interrupted by a stream of nurses and doctors running tests and administering antibiotics… but I had my girls.
I’d love to report that all was well, once my family was united, but alas, it was not. The first night with our girls, we were plagued with absolutely useless nurses in a ward with no nursery, despite the fact that I was literally instructed not to get out of bed. We weren’t informed that the girls should be double-swaddled, when they were only brought to us in one, nor were we told that this was due to the fact that the thermostat was broken in our room and would suddenly drop to the low 60s. After being administered Benadryl via IV, I woke several hours later to Violet screeching and Jake exhaustedly snoring away. Not knowing if Jake was just sleeping through the crying or if he just didn’t understand that such small babies cannot be ignored when they cry, I left him alone and tended to her myself. The only reason a nurse came to assist was because my heart rate sky rocketed and the company that was monitoring it called to let them know that I was going to pass out.
When the nurse arrived, she scolded me for letting the babies get too cold, as I lay there crying and in pain, feeling like a failure of a mother when I couldn’t even get out of bed to care for my own children. She spent a good five minutes lecturing me on how hard all of this was on my husband and how we couldn’t do this by ourselves. Later, I reported her sexist diatribe and discouraging warnings that proved completely untrue, but in that moment, I was devastated. It was 3:00 a.m., after I’d finally gotten to be with my babies and I had failed them. They’d gotten so cold, they had to be put under the warmer. I had no mother and no idea what I was doing and now I was suffering from heart complications and was literally unable to do it by myself. In that moment, I felt so lost and alone and that nurse can go kick rocks.
The next day was better, with a competent nurse, who actually told us the girls were on a schedule… which no one had even mentioned… and stressed the importance of keeping it. She showed us how to feed and burp and swaddle our not-quite-five-pound babies, leaving us much better prepared for the night, since the girls would be officially discharged, even though I couldn’t leave yet. At this point, I desperately wanted to be home with my babies, but it would be another two days before we could leave. By the time I was discharged, I was on the verge of a mental breakdown for fear they’d make me stay. Jake was even prepared to tell the doctor he thought it would be worse for me if I had to stay another night. After one full week in the hospital, though, I finally got to go home with my baby girls and it was the greatest day of motherhood I’d experienced so far.
… end trigger warning.
I’d like to say that life was smooth sailing from this point forward, but my health issues persisted for some time. In fact, I spent the first few months of my girls’ lives fearing I wouldn’t get to see them grow up, as I waited to see how my heart was recovering. In November, I received the news that my heart was back to normal, but that if there was another pregnancy, it would be high-risk, with a 20% chance of similar troubles. My girls were six months old before I finally felt strong enough to walk around the neighborhood or put their double stroller in the hatchback, without struggling. Physically, I would say I’m 95% recovered and that I feel almost normal.
I don’t only keep this blog for my readers, as grateful as I am to have them, but for my own sense of nostalgia and record keeping, as well. It’s taken me a long time to share my “birth story.” As Valentine’s Day nears, though, Jake and I are closing in on two years since February 13, 2020, the day we received the news that we’d have to pursue IVF if we ever wanted a family. My girls just turned seven months old and I’m starting to realize that, while I have mostly recovered my physical strength, emotionally, I’m no longer the same person I was before Covid-19.
When Jake and I started infertility treatments, I remember telling him that I wasn’t sure if I had the emotional fortitude to go through something so heart wrenching as pandemic IVF and come out the same person. Well, I’m nothing if not self aware, because it seems I was right. I’m not as strong as I once was and I don’t think that’s just because I’m getting older and cry more over news stories or sad TV shows, as other women report after 30. I’m beginning to realize that before Covid-19, I was… tougher. I had mettle and grit and I didn’t give myself enough credit for that. I was more capable of rationalizing away illegitimate worries and trains of thought. I didn’t get as upset over the things other people thought and said. I took life more in stride and had a lot greater sense of emotional control.
I’m not a complete basket case, today, but I am generally a more anxious person. I struggle to be away from my girls, more than is normal, to the extent that being around extended family stresses me out as they pass them back and forth. I worry about them irrationally at times, having gone so far as to begin to hyperventilate because Scarlett had a fever one night. I’m sure this is one of the reasons I couldn’t adjust to being back at work, though the other was that work itself had fundamentally changed for the worse. I’m more sensitive, more easily frustrated, and just less emotionally stable than I used to be and that… ticks meoff. I know, I know, I’ve been through a lot, but I was supposed to bounce back, as I did in my teens when my mother became abusive and again in my early twenties when I miscarried and lost a baby I loved and left a terrifying marriage.
I graduated college despite my terrible homelife after getting married at 19. I once got drunk on Christmas Eve and threw out everything I owned, because I wanted a fresh start after said horrific marriage. I lost 100 pounds and had an epic rom-com worthy glow-up in my early twenties. I met strangers online and attended Match.com meetups alone, hoping to have another chance at my happily ever after. I held two jobs through grad school and worked my way up in my library system. I lived alone for years and took care of everything on my own, with little help from anyone else. I was a manager for a year and moved to a new city to be a teen librarian. I kicked butt, y’all.
I also spent six weeks at home, at the beginning of the pandemic, thinking my career was gone, along with any hope of having a family. I lay in bed in a catatonic state for days. I drank too much and didn’t sleep at all. I started cutting myself again and finally applied for a medical card. My mother had taken me to several awful therapists and dosed me with 250 mg of Wellbutrin a day in high school, in an effort to make me more manageable. After that experience, marijuana was the only help I’d consider. I was suddenly able to sleep and my anxiety and depression eased. It wasn’t perfect, but it helped and I was no longer self-harming. I could see past the present state of my life and the rest of the world and have hope it would improve.
I spent a month taking massive amounts of drugs to get pregnant, only to realize that it had been a complete and utter failure. All those shots and all that money was for nothing. $15,000 was gone, but just days after the negative test, I called and put down a deposit on a second round of IVF. I spent the ice storm of 2020 praying we wouldn’t lose power, when a thousand dollars of medication had to be refrigerated. I spent election day in surgery alone, for the second time in just a few months. Throughout all of this, I knew that a single fever would cancel my cycle and forfeit our money, ending our chances to become parents any time soon and possibly at all.
Even after I got pregnant, it seemed like the hits just kept on coming. Just after the first of the year, I had to make the decision to put down my Jude, the dog who had seen me through every heartbreaking moment prior. He was my best friend for thirteen years and I had to kill him. Then, my mother was put on a ventilator after contracting Covid-19 and never fully recovered. She had several strokes and died of a heart attack the day after Mother’s Day, when I was seven months pregnant with my twins.
I hadn’t seen my mother in four and a half years and I will never forgive myself for not putting up with her psychotic behavior for just a few years longer, for ignoring the text message asking me to get lunch six months earlier, for throwing away the last birthday card she ever sent me. I said goodbye to her alone, massively pregnant, while Jake waited in the lobby due to Covid-19 restrictions. I forced the nurse to set aside all platitudes and attempts to comfort me and tell it to me straight, that she was going to die. I wrote her obituary myself, but never got to attend a funeral, since her sleezy husband refused to give her one, even though my grandmother offered to pay.
The word “trauma” has become grossly overused, but ‘m afraid the last two years have just been too much for me. I worry that I’ll never be the person I was prior to 2020. I wish I’d been prouder of her accomplishments and strength. I wish I’d been nicer to myself. Perhaps, as before, I’ll recover… slowly. I wasn’t exactly a bastion of mental health when I was sleeping with a .357 in my bed at 25. It’s entirely possible that I’m looking at my previous recoveries through rose-colored glasses. I’m sure there are posts on this nearly ten-year-old blog proving it. Maybe I’ll have that 2019 strength once again, but for now, I feel as if something inside of me has broken and I’m not entirely sure it will ever fully heal.
I’m sure I’m not alone in this. I’m hardly the person who’s struggled the most through the pandemic, but the last two years have been rough. They say that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and I’m not sure if that’s true. I don’t feel stronger, but perhaps in time, I will. I know that this struggle has taught me not to take my family for granted, to be patient and loving with my girls, to consider how I’ll look back on my decisions and how I spent my time one day… and maybe that is stronger in a way, but I really miss who I was in 2019.
One year ago today was a big day for me. On November 3, 2020 the country was watching our presidential election with bated breath… but not me.
I started the day alone, mask-clad, in an operating room, with Jake in the car, after an ice storm had ravaged the state. I’d spent the last week praying we’d keep power, because we had over a thousand dollars worth of medication in the refrigerator. My ovaries were the size of clementines and I was, once again, irritated that no one told me how physically painful IVF could be. Although it was my second time to go through an egg retrieval alone, I felt it even more so, since we’d kept the entire cycle a secret. After six months of fertility treatments, it was the first time I broke down in a doctor’s office, crying uncontrollably after the procedure, because I wanted my husband and would never be a mom.
After my retrieval, I took every single hydrocodone pill over the next two days, not because of the puncture wounds in the wall of my vagina, but because it took the edge off of the stress of Pandemic Election Year Back-to-Back IVF. My Gramma called to rant about Russia, having no idea that I couldn’t possibly care less about the fate of the country that day. I didn’t care if we fell into anarchy, as long as I got to be a mom. It was one of my hardest days of 2020. Now…
I can’t even believe they’re real, y’all. They’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me, the best thing I’ve ever done. A year ago, today, I thought I’d never be a mom and now I have not one, but two, beautiful baby girls. It was all worth it.
I’m writing this on November 17, 2020, at 5:00 in the morning, the first day that I can take a pregnancy test with doctor approval. I’ll post it the day I have a baby.
I couldn’t sleep at all the night before last, getting around three to four hours, total. Progesterone gives me weird dreams and I was anxious over whether or not the last 10 days of shots and headaches and nausea and a swollen belly were worth it. I spent all of yesterday trying to prepare for the crushing disappointment of a failed transfer and the inevitable two to three days in bed that would surely follow. I attended the staff meeting, since the other option was Wednesday, when I planned to be staring at the ceiling in a catatonic state. I also completed all of my weeding, since the end of November really sneaks up on us in libraries, after we close for Thanksgiving and Black Friday and have a weekend.
Weeding is the process of pulling and processing old books, to make room in the collection for new books. It’s not an incredibly taxing job, if you’re not on hormones that make you uniquely ill. By the end of the day, my swollen belly felt even worse and my head hurt. Since I couldn’t stem the tide of my emotions, going from hopeful to tears, I took two flexiril at about 8:00 and went to bed around 9:30, setting the pregnancy test out for easy access, at around 6:00, before Jake went to work, but late enough that we wouldn’t lose much sleep.
I woke around 4:30, my belly aching, and anxious. I wanted to take the test right away. Then I never wanted to take the test and either get a period or a baby. Then I wanted to go back to sleep and take it later in the morning, as planned. Finally, as bladder pinged at me, I admitted that waiting was pointless and would have zero impact on the outcome. I made my way into the bathroom, half asleep, grabbed the test and peed in the cup… only to promptly drop it, spilling urine all over the bathroom. I tried to tear open the test with my teeth, realizing that it definitely had pee on it and only barely managed to cut it open with nail clippers. I was able to tilt the cup and use the remaining sample to actually take the test and was distracted during the wait time with cleaning the bathroom. Finally, I pulled on my big girl panties, to review the test… and it was positive.
I immediately ran into the bedroom, turned on the light, and jumped on the bed to wake a startled husband.
Jake: “What?” Me: “It’s positive.“ Jake: ::hugs me and pulls me to him:: Me: “The perk of spilling pee all over the bathroom, when you take a pregnancy test, is that you have something to do while you wait for the results.” Jake: ::laughs and tries to pull me further into the bed, when he realizes I’m breathing hard:: Jake: “Are you okay?” Me: “Yeah, I’m just…” ::I search for the right words:: “…covered in pee.”
So, I took a shower, while Jake threw the bathmats in the wash and came to bed, where Jake was already mostly asleep again, just a like a man. I lie there for a bit, realized I was never going to get back to sleep and got up to write a blog, until Wal-Mart opens at 7:00, cuz Covid-19, so I can buy ten $1 pregnancy tests to get me through tomorrow, when I’ll hear confirmation from the doctor’s office, after bloodwork.
Every year, for the past four, I’ve written a blog post around my wedding anniversary and only last year did it veer from that main subject on my Belle of Infertility page.
Year 1: What ACTUALLY Worked for Us in the First Year – “That’s my final claim to success in our first year of marriage: we checked in with each other on how we saw the second year, the third year, the fourth, because we’ve got a lot of years ahead of us and the plans are bound to change a hundred times… but it’s made it a lot less earth shattering to no longer be doing my rewrite alone, to be on the same page as my apocalypse buddy.”
Year 2: Two Vitally Important Years – “We both have pretty big personalities and, therefore, may have a lifetime of brawls ahead of us… but we’ll never have to worry that we haven’t met our match.”
Year 3: Coping (Belle of Infertility) – “I overcame so much and now I have to be Infertility Girl?!?! As if that’s not enough, my options are now postponed indefinitely due to a global pandemic?!?!“
This year, officially two days into my third trimester with two baby girls, I look back on the last year and… zetus lapetus it had some highs and lows.
One year ago today, on our third anniversary, Jake and I got the call informing us of an IVF start date of July 18th after months of tears (mine) over the postponement of all elective procedures. By that time this year, those tears will have turned to ones of pure exhaustion as we try to figure out this baby thing… twice.
We spent our fourth year of marriage in lockdown, only leaving the house for work, grocery shopping, and occasional walks around the neighborhood, or the park if we were feeling particularly daring. We focused our energy and finances on fixing up our house… and making some very expensive babies, which I suppose means we also left the house for a lot of doctor’s appointments.
Pandemic IVF was certainly the most difficult trial of our marriage so far. While for me, 2020 made the top three on the list of the worst years of my life, I’m certain it ranked as number one for Jake. Regardless, it made us closer. During a time when the rest of the world seemed to be rethinking their marriages, ours seem to grow stronger. Jake has always been something of a hardass. I joke that I married Red Foreman of That 70’s Show. When we watched The Boys on Amazon, I realized that I found it deeply attractive that Butcher was such an asshole to everyone he met, but had such a soft spot for his wife and treated her with such tenderness.
Me: “Huh. I find it really hot that Butcher is such a dick to everyone but his wife. What does that say about you? What does that say about me?”
Jake helped his parents run a sprawling cattle ranch his whole life. His first job entailed working grueling hours in a grain elevator at 16. After that, he worked rodeos with his uncle. He drove a truck before entering the oil field, as a fluid engineer. He’s a manual laborer and a supervisor. Soft… isn’t really his thing. He’s not great with empathy and if you’d asked me how he’d handle my mental state in 2020, two years ago, I’m not sure what I’d have said… because 2020 was the year I completely fell apart… several times.
The last time I was as poorly off as I was in 2020, learning that I might not be able to have children and would have to go through IVF during an unprecedented global pandemic, I was divorcing Joffrey Baratheon at 23-years-old. There were a few days last year when I didn’t even get out of bed. I didn’t watch TV or read. I stared at the wall and thought about a future without a family, about the resentment that might grow between Jake and I, about losing him because of it, about being all alone. I thought about my parents and how different things could have been if they’d waited until their 30s to have kids, when they were stable in their careers and their finances and had had their fun during their twenties. I thought about how much I love my husband and how much fun we have together and how much healthier my outlook on romance would have been had I seen that in my parents. I thought about all that we had built together and not being able to share it with anyone.
When I was able to be more productive and positive, going on long walks, reading, binging Netflix shows, and taking on craft projects, I still didn’t eat for long stretches and rarely slept. At one point, I averaged an hour a night. I tried drinking to sleep and that… went badly. After my second or third drunken breakdown, I asked Jake what he thought of my getting a medical marijuana card for the anxiety, since I was unwilling to take any sort of medication after being prescribed 250 mg of Wellbutrin from ages 13-18, because my mother couldn’t handle me. It was something of an investment, but he agreed it was worth a try and I could finally sleep. Even when suffering from depression, THC gummies render you too lethargic to do anything about it and that helped me through the summer… through the failed pregnancy test that followed our first $15,000 IVF cycle, through the dread of the second cycle two months later.
… and all the while, Jake was there, when the pandemic meant no one else could be, whether they wanted to or not. In another year, my step-mother would have loved to take me shopping, my dad would have made me laugh with crass jokes over lunch, my step-siblings would have come to a cookout. All of this would have distracted me from our fertility troubles, but in 2020, not only was I heartbroken that I’d potentially never have a family of my own, I was isolated from everyone but Jake… and he was surprisingly up to the task. When necessary, he sat by my side on the bed and read articles on his phone, while I lay unresponsive. He took care of me when that Whiskey Sleep Therapy idea failed so miserably. He went for walks with me when I felt well enough, laughed with me, grabbed curbside takeout, watched movies and shows, helped me with household projects, and played board games with me when I was up to it, always ready and willing to hold me while I cried when the tides suddenly turned. He never made me feel bad for feeling bad and he was always willing to have a good time when I was able. My relentless hardass husband, who’s never been stellar with empathy, was absolutely my rock through 2020.
For my part, I’d love to acknowledge the strength it took to survive the trials of the last year. and I’m sure I would were it anyone else, but I will forever fear turning into my mother, a weak and pitiful woman, who loves being weak and pitiful. Needing Jake as much as I did often made me feel worse, like I was draining him and was too much of a burden. He hadn’t signed on for a wife who crumbled so thoroughly and seeing how strong he was through it all made me feel pathetic. Self-loathing added to my heartache and I often worried that 2020, as a whole, would scar me so badly that there wouldn’t be much of a wife or mother left.
Jake reinforced none of these ideas, though. He comforted me and supported me and encouraged me all year and through both IVF rounds. He kept track of my medications and administered subcutaneous shots and intramuscular shots, well over 100 by the end of the year. He sat in the car during doctor’s appointments and surgeries. He drove me to my monitoring visits during an ice storm. He celebrated with me at 4:00 a.m., when I got a positive pregnancy test and waited in the car during my ultrasound to find out if we were having one baby or two. He rejoiced over the premature news that we were having two boys and once again, over two girls, when the blood test came back. He fought with me over names and painted the baby’s room five times over Valentine’s Day, because the pink I chose was lighter than the beige that was there. He’s built shelves and hung curtains and redone the closet and assured me more than once that I will not be my mother.
Our fourth year of marriage was not an easy one, but it did, indeed make us stronger. In 2020, I saw something in Jake I’d never seen before, a tenderness and compassion I never saw my father hold for my mother and I honestly didn’t expect to see so soon. It may have been a tough year, but it made me fall in love with my hardass husband all over again.
Ever since Jake and I began our infertility journey, I’ve realized that the world is full of people who can have healthy children for free, and usually don’t want them at all, telling other people that they should just adopt. I can’t actually speak for all couples who’ve sought fertility treatment, on this or any other issue of course, but I can share a few facts and explanations for why this “solution” isn’t as simple as people seem to think. I can also do so with a clear head and little emotional charge, which you’ll be fortunate to get if you actually suggest this to someone struggling to get pregnant. Spoiler alert: don’t.
To be clear, I am not telling anyone not to adopt. Adoption has proven to be a wonderful option for many, despite its challenges. It’s also just not a feasible option for many others, who are rarely given the opportunity to articulate why… or are too hurt to do so, because “Why don’t you just adopt” is a really hateful thing to say to someone dealing with infertility. I’m not the first one to discuss this and here is an article from Psychology Today that makes many similar points, if you don’t think I’m qualified to outline the reasons I found that adoption wasn’t a realistic option for so many people.
Adoption from Foster Care When Jake and I found out that IVF was our only option to conceive, we did consider other possibilities, not just because IVF is unimaginably expensive and invasive, but also because it’s not guaranteed to work and we wanted children, even if they weren’t biologically ours. I started by researching adoption from foster care, assuming that these children would need homes the most and knowing that the process was low cost to free, when compared with other options. I quickly found out, however, that my home state is surprisingly honest about how difficult this process really is, how long it can take, the children available and the challenges they face. Adoptuskids.org spells out some of the same information, highlighting the fact that all of the children in foster care have dealt with loss or trauma and have the emotional issues that come with it, are an average of eight-years-old, often come in sibling groups, and may have special needs. Some resources even advised not entering a foster situation if your hope was to adopt in response to infertility, because the primary goal of foster care is reunification. Children aren’t usually placed in foster homes to find new families, but for their birth parents to have a chance to improve their situation and, ideally, take their children home once again. So the people who are most often asked “Why don’t you just adopt?” are actually being told that adopting from foster care really isn’t for them. This is the perfect version, as advertised on foster care websites, depicting pictures of cute, healthy, white toddlers on their adoption day, with no horror stories included.
As with IVF, however, you can’t mention the words “foster care” without hearing or recalling someone’s horror story and in the last year, I’ve heard several of them. I won’t spell out the firsthand accounts I’ve received, not just because they aren’t my stories to tell, but because you can ask around to find plenty of your own if you wish and every experience is unique. I also have no desire to paint DHS or the foster system as being run by mustache-twirling villains. It’s an underfunded and understaffed government agency without a lot of people waiting in line to become case workers or foster to adopt… often because of these stories, creating a vicious cycle full of people who are doing their best. The abbreviated version is that it just doesn’t always work out and when it doesn’t, it’s devastating. I know there are foster care success stories and I’m happy for the ones who can share them, but clearly this is not an option for everyone (and is arguably a poor option for some) and there is no shame in that. I’d imagine that those who have adopted from foster care know the challenges and aren’t asking people why they don’t “just” do so, themselves. It takes a special person to foster or foster to adopt (not the same thing) and it’s okay that that doesn’t describe everyone who wants to be a parent, as well as those who don’t want to be parents.
Tribal Adoption In my state, you can flip a coin as to whether or not someone will claim to be native to one tribe or another. My own mother was adopted before the Indian Tribal Welfare Act, which I personally support as an effort to maintain children’s tribal roots, in part because I can’t actually claim mine, due to how my mother was adopted in 1960. I’ve heard many similar stories from those who don’t have their official cards and know just as many who do, so tribal adoption, around these parts, is a popular option. In fact, a good friend and coworker just finalized the adoption of her little girl from a tribe native to my state. She’s a registered member, herself, so it wasn’t fraught with the risk so inherent in trying to adopt outside of the tribe. I’m sure you’ve heard of these court battles and the arguments for why ICW should be abolished, but if you haven’t, it’s a very charged topic around these parts and one I can’t discuss dispassionately, so I won’t try.
The short story is that tribal adoption is an option worthy of consideration, if you’re a member. Results and processes vary by tribe, but it is often a simpler and quicker process. Even then, however, it’s not without risk, as there are still many hoops to jump through, before finalizing and you could inevitably lose custody before that point, as with any adoption process. My friend has actually decided not to adopt another child, specifically because she feels so lucky not to have had her heart broken the first time, after multiple failed infertility treatments. If you’re outside the tribe, you’re generally warned to steer clear of this option, as there are so many more ways it can fall through, in favor of a member, whether you agree with the policy or not.
Private Adoption Private adoption is what most people picture when they hear the word “adoption.” They think of a pregnant teenager or young woman who’s unable to care for an infant and seeking a loving family, as seen on their favorite sitcom. Private adoption was used as a plot device on Friends, Sex and the City, and Modern Family… because that’s what infertility is to media, a plot device. The problem with these depictions, of course, is that they grossly misrepresent the process, from the waiting to the financial aspect to the risk of the adoption falling through.
Let’s start with the waiting. According to this source, the wait is between two and seven years for a healthy infant. It’s very difficult to find other figures, as those reporting them are the agencies looking to make money off of their services. Each step in the process is discussed independently and time estimates are rarely given, in part, because every situation is so unique. The reality of private adoption is that there are many more waiting parents than there are available children and it is very difficult to pin down a timeline. If it doesn’t work out, you’re that much older when you have to seek other options.
Then, there are the failures. It’s difficult to say how common failed adoption matches are, because no one is keeping track. One attorney estimates, however, that at least 50% of adoption matches fail, with scams to get money (while planning to keep the child) being difficult to prove, but not uncommon. He goes on to say that he feels that it’s become more and more common for adoption matches to fail, while more of the financial burden now falls on the adoptive parents, not the agency, estimating that number to fall somewhere between $6,000 and $10,000. Creating a Family displays surprising transparency, publicly reporting that their success rates range anywhere from 60% to 93%, depending on the year. This, of course, means that anywhere from 7% to 40% of matches fail.
This horror story is a terrible fertility clinic waiting room read and shares the tale of what one couple went through for their ultimate successful private adoption. Most people know, even through the grapevine, the story of a birth mother who changed her mind, either through the birth mother herself, as is the case with my step-brother’s nephew, who once had eager adoptive parents waiting for him… or through the heartbroken adoptive parents, such as with a high school teacher of mine. I’ve even heard the miserable recounts of a close friend who once worked with an adoption agency and had to assist in reclaiming adoptive children from their new homes. These women aren’t the villains, however, for deciding to parent their own children. It’s just a risk of a very difficult process, so it’s no surprise that said process is no one’s first choice.
Finally, the expense of private adoption must be considered. There are testimonials all over the Internet, in blogs or message board comments, sharing individual experiences, but I can’t validate those numbers, so I’m going to quote some average figures, such as adoption.org’s $30,500 to $48,500 for an agency adoption and $25,000 to $38,000 for independent adoption. American Adoptions, however, reports a higher figure, with a national average of $43,000 and their own averages of $40,000 to $50,000. Some estimates cite costs as low as $20,000. There are of course some very happy families built through private adoption, but the fact remains that, even when considering only the financial aspect, it’s simply unreachable for many Americans.
International Adoption International adoption is actually not a favorite suggestion of those who lack an understanding of how involved all types of adoption are, often getting the response that there are “plenty of children here who need homes.” See above. For years, however, it was a go-to for people who wanted to avoid the complications of these other options, while still having the opportunity to become parents. It was often cheaper and came with less risk of having a birth parent attempt to reclaim parental rights. I remember looking at international adoption, more than 10 years ago, and seeing that adopting from Ethiopia only cost around $15,000 and was one of the cheapest and easiest options.
The landscape of international adoption has changed drastically since I last considered it, something I also discovered while researching in a fertility clinic waiting room. Today, all of the countries that were once so popular for international adoption (and still allow it) limit their available children to those with disabilities, sometimes mild and others severe; while only allowing the rest to be adopted locally, by their own citizens, who will raise them in their native countries and cultures. There’s merit to these policies, but they severely limit the options and it now costs much more for international adoptions.
Previously, in Ethiopia, only abandoned children were available for adoption internationally, which meant they often had severe disabilities. The cost was around $32,000 – $45,000. In 2018, however, the country ended international adoptions, as did Russia in 2012. Adoption from China costs anywhere from $27,000 to $37,000 and limits their available children to “special needs” and “special focus,” respectively children with one or more medical conditions. Only single women (as opposed to single men) are allowed to adopt, and must have a net worth of $100,000 or more, while married couples only require $80,000. Applicants’ BMI cannot exceed 40. Guatemala specifically limits their prospective parents to heterosexuals and discourages any single man from adopting. The estimated cost is $25,000 to $38,000. This is irrelevant, at the moment, because the U.S. doesn’t currently allow adoptions from Guatemala, Vietnam, or Nepal. Other, more obscure countries, often have trouble meeting U.S. immigration regulations, regardless of their available and waiting children.
In the past, some beautiful families have grown through international adoption. As you can see, however. this is no longer really an option for most Americans, considering the cost, limitations, and even immigration horror stories.
Our Reasons That’s it, y’all. Those are all of the options for acquiring a child, without fertility treatments, short of a relative dying and leaving you one in the opening plot to a family friendly romcom. Jake and I discussed all of the above options, before moving forward with IVF and what it came down to, for us, was that we wanted the absolute assurance that the child we were raising would remain ours. We didn’t care about the genetics or appearance so much as we cared about knowing they couldn’t be taken from us. We also found that even one of the most expensive fertility treatments was still cheaper than most forms of adoption.
IVF and other similar options are not without risk, believe me I know. You can spend thousands of dollars on a failed procedure, as Jake and I personally experienced, or six figures on multiple failed procedures, which we fortunately did not. It’s emotionally, financially, and physically devastating, but of all the risks, from bankruptcy to cancer, having your child ripped from your arms isn’t one of them. For most couples undergoing fertility treatments, it’s not an obsession with pregnancy or having a child that looks like them or an inability to love a kid who doesn’t share their bloodline… you know, the things people who often don’t want any children (and therefore don’t want to adopt either) accuse us of thinking. They just want to be parents, without threat of having the title stripped from them, often after heartbreaking years of trying to conceive naturally.
If it came down to (a) spending tens of thousands of dollars on invasive medical treatments or (b) walking into the Baby Pound that my Gramma adopted my mom from (which people seem to think still exists today) and taking one home with the assurance that no one would ever show up to reclaim them, many people who want to be parents would choose the latter. It’s not 1960, though. I’m pretty sure the hospital administrator in charge of my mother’s adoption wasn’t even entirely on the up-and-up and my Gramma still feared for her family every time the doorbell rang, until her daughter was eighteen. So, it wasn’t even all that simple then.
Sure, most of us do want babies, because we’re complete monsters for wanting to be there for all of the firsts and know that our children weren’t traumatized, before coming under our care. If we could adopt healthy toddlers or young grade schoolers, though, even having to help them overcome some trauma, knowing they’d remain ours, many of us would! That’s just not really how the system works. As for teens, they’re totally my jam, from the nerdy, funny ones to the angry ones smoking pot on the library patio and calling me a bitch. Still, I know that it takes a special person to work with them for even the amount of time I do and I don’t begrudge someone for not being able to do it day in and day out, with any age child.
Adoption has created many happy families, but it’s not without challenges. Not wanting to take those on, as Plan A, after receiving the heart wrenching news that they can’t get pregnant, doesn’t make anyone a bad person. Not wanting to fight these battles, if there’s an easier way, is really no different than not wanting to fight the battles of having children at all, which is also a perfectly acceptable life decision. Quite frankly, unless you’ve adopted several children of your own, you should probably keep your opinions on the subject to yourself, because anyone who has likely knows that it’s just not that simple.
It’s the big reveal, y’all, the reason 2020 was so painfully wretched for Jake and me: two rounds of pandemic IVF.
Jake and I stopped trying to avoid pregnancy in December of 2018, when I had my IUD removed. We’d purchased our own home, were doing well in our respective careers, with Jake anticipating a promotion soon, and were well on our way to having our finances under control. I was 31 and Jake was 34, with our two year wedding anniversary coming up in May. Considering the average time to get pregnant is three to six months, we were right on track with the plan we’d outlined before we got married, the plan my OBGYN had approved, the plan that would allow us to have up to four children before we turned forty, if we so chose. Most importantly, I finally felt like an adult who could consistently care for herself and could realistically consider the possibility of caring for another human.
… more or less…
It wasn’t until April or so that we decided to begin trying in earnest, not having been too disappointed about having a few extra months of childfree existence as we waited to see what happened. We felt we were ready (or as ready as anyone can be) for our lives to become about children and family and all the craziness and exhaustion that entailed, so we began timing things in hopes of a more deliberate pregnancy. By June, I’d bought some dollar store ovulation tests, not wanting to waste the money on a giant box of strips from Amazon, when surely things would happen naturally soon enough. It was September, the month of my birthday, when I began to truly worry and asked Jake to get tested, even if we had to pay out of pocket. My doctors had all reassured me that there was likely nothing wrong, based on bloodwork and annual exams, and that it was just a matter of time… as long as there was nothing wrong with Jake. I’d been encouraged to just “stop trying” and that it would happen when I “least expect it,” advice I still find moronic for a woman in her 30’s. I thought I’d heard the last of that terrible adage while dating.
No. I wanted real answers, even if those answers were that I just needed to be patient, backed up by medical proof. So, off Jake went to our family doctor, with strict instructions from me to tell him that we’d been trying for over a year, despite it having been just shy. You see, for some reason, doctors are still insisting on the stipulation that a couple must be trying for at least a year to get tested for infertility issues, despite the rising instances of infertility and increased possibility of difficulties in one’s thirties, coupled with the more rapidly dropping chances of achieving a successful pregnancy, once they do figure out something is wrong. Regardless, the doctor scoffed and insisted that there was no need to test Jake, although he was ready and willing to pay out of pocket because “90% of the time, it’s the woman.”
That’s not even the statistic! The correct numbers cite that men are the sole cause of infertility in 20%-30% of all cases and a contributing factor in 50%. Not only that, but testing a man for infertility is far simpler and less invasive than testing a woman. We were willing to privatepay for something as simple as Jake having an awkward moment in a clinical room and the doctor scoffed and blamed me, without any evidence to back it up!
By October, I was crying hysterical tears, certain that something was wrong. I begged Jake to see another doctor and he scheduled a seminalis for January. The holidays were a little bittersweet, as I watched other people’s children enjoy the magic, wondering if I’d always be on the outside of that scene. I tried to keep my spirits up, telling myself that everything was fine, but the day before Valentine’s Day, Jake came home to tell me that he had around 1.5 million sperm… and that 40 million was average. Our only hope of having children was IVF, my literal worst fear since I came to understand what it entailed in my teens. We didn’t know if Jake was the only factor or if IVF would even work, just that the average couple spends just shy of $20,000 per cycle and they’re advised to plan for three cycles, for the greatest odds of success. You can bet I called the office and got us a new doctor.
I won’t get too statistics heavy on you, but the summary of IVF research is that there just are no guarantees. Each cycle has a 20% – 30% success rate, overall, and that varies based on the type of infertility, the age and health of the woman and even the man, and the clinic. There are online calculators that will tell you your overall chances, but they’re hardly conclusive and backup the idea that a couple should plan for three cycles for the best chances. My stats were quoted as having a 56% chance of success after the first cycle, 75% on the second, and 85% on the third. Some research suggests moving on after three cycles, as the odds begin to decrease, while others suggest pursuing up to six. Some recommend transferring two embryos, while others warn against it. What it comes down to, however, is that there are really too many individual factors to provide anyone with accurate predictions. Every couple going into IVF is looking at a gamble of tens of thousands of dollars.
This was, of course, a devastating blow. Jake and I had just gotten to a good financial place in life and had no idea how we’d fund potentially multiple rounds of IVF. We couldn’t fathom a life without children and, honestly, it wasn’t until that moment that I realized how very much I wanted them. I thought about the Easter and Halloweens, Christmases and birthdays we’d miss, the sleepless nights and tantrums we wouldn’t have, the first steps and first words, that first painful “I hate you”, the sports games I wouldn’t get to pretend to enjoy, those insufferable holiday pageants and “graduations” from the first half of second grade, the first broken arm and the first broken heart, the first wedding and grandchild… all of the bad and all of the good. I remembered that awful party in 2019, when all of Jake’s friends’ wives acted as though I were invisible the second they realized I didn’t have children. I pictured a lifetime of being excluded for something I couldn’t control.. and then Covid-19 hit.
They say that God never gives you more than you can handle… and I’ve linked the blog I kept during my infertility treatments to testify to that not being entirely true, as I received the news that all elective procedures had been suspended for an indeterminate amount of time, just a month after receiving our heartbreaking news. Then we found out that the financing company our clinic used had gone under, dealt with family disapproval of borrowing funds, and discovered that when we could move forward, we’d have to sign papers agreeing that one instance of fever or a directive from the CDC could forfeit the entire cycle with no refunds, because we weren’t just dealing with IVF, but Pandemic IVF.
I survived 2020, but it was in much the way I survived my early 20s. I am not stronger for it and I can’t even say I pulled myself through it, this time. Nope. Jake was the string to my kite, y’all. He is the only thing that got me through the breakdowns, the days of lying in bed staring at the wall, the shots and the horrible symptoms that came with them, the mood swings and outbursts, either stress or medication induced, I’ll never know. I was legitimately concerned I might have bipolar disorder after I got so angry at Jake for touching my donut, that I hurled a plate across the room, into the sink, went to the bedroom and completely broke down. That will chip a Corelle dinner plate, by the way.
… and everyone else gets to have kids the fun and free way.
It was not an easy year, especially after that first negative pregnancy test indicated an entirely failed cycle, having transferred two embryos with none left to freeze, after spending $16,000. Always having been the “go hard or go home” type, I told Jake that since I was turning 33 in a few weeks, I wanted to pursue another cycle… right now. So I found myself finishing one IVF cycle in August and starting a new one in October. This time, we’d told no one. It was during an historic ice storm that wiped out power across the state, that I sat at home praying we’d keep ours, with over $1000 worth of medication in the refrigerator, funded through a combination of credit card debt and liquidated investments. If we had to stay with family, we’d have to share that we were trying again and open the door to their hopeful expectations, once more. It was awful enough breaking the news to them the first time, while coping with it ourselves.
I spent election day in surgery, alone due to Covid-19. After our initial telehealth consult, I’d had every single appointment alone, in fact, with Jake often waiting in the car. I was by myself for the first egg retrieval and now the second, finally breaking down post-op and crying that I wanted Jake and I was never going to be a mom. Of the many low points in 2020, that could have been the lowest. It was miserable and going home to listen to my clueless Gramma rant about Russia taking over, while high on hydrocodone, didn’t help.
I’d once again transferred two embryos, with Jake in the car, but was able to freeze six this time. I prayed and cried through the pain of ovaries expanded to the size of clementines, still taking an intramuscular shot of progesterone in the hip every night, along with all of the symptoms that came with it, such as fatigue and shortness of breath (while wearing a mask), crippling headaches, and the spasms of pain from nerve damage that persist today, knowing it could all be for nothing again. For the first eight days, I took a prescription to keep me from getting OHSS, an even more painful and potentially life threatening condition that develops when the body over responds. It caused such severe dizziness that I couldn’t drive or work.
In many ways, 2020 was the most difficult year of my life and back-to-back rounds of pandemic IVF was the hardest thing I’ve ever been through… except that it worked the second time. That’s right, tomorrow I am 21 weeks pregnant with not one, but two babies, approximately $30,000 worth, due in July. I haven’t shared, because I was waiting for my 20 week anatomy scan, for fear of jinxing it, but all is well. I blogged a lot more than it seemed last year and for anyone suffering from similar struggles, I’ve linked Belle of Infertility. I can’t claim it’s always uplifting or that I always intended for it to be read, but thus far, it does have an HEA: twin girls!
One year ago today, I received the email that the library was closing its doors and all fertility treatments would be halted, for an indeterminate amount of time. Today I am fully vaccinated and tomorrow, 21 weeks pregnant with twins! For the purposes of this blog, their pseudonyms will be Violet and Scarlett, two names we strongly considered and ultimately vetoed for the color theme and the inevitable shortening to Vi and Scar.