Confession: In matters of love and life, I am a keeper of secrets.
Why? Because sharing my life means opening myself to criticism. And it means losing control. Driven to avoid anxiety, I cling to insider knowledge like a drowning person hugs a life preserver. Maybe you do the same thing.
In my journey through infertility, I was forced to let go my usual secret-keeping ways and reach out for help. I simply had no other choice.
Here’s how it happened.
In 2008, Leading Man and I started trying to conceive baby #2 in the usual happy, easy, fun way. But no luck. And continued efforts didn’t feel happy, easy or fun anymore.
We went through the evaluation process for admission to Walter Reed Army Medical Center’s infertility treatment program, and were accepted into the program in January 2009. Despite lots of doctor’s visits and tests, we didn’t share this with anyone. Living far from our families and friends, it was easier to keep secret than to share. And infertility – no matter what your diagnosis – feels intensely personal.
Despite the doctor’s recommendations that we should do IVF right away, we opted to try IUI first, hoping the less-invasive, less-expensive procedure would work for us. We planned to do three cycles, but after two unsuccessful cycles decided to stop wasting time and emotional energy. Both were in short supply.
We did our first (secret) cycle of IVF in May of 2009.
Those of you who have done IVF know how time consuming and emotionally exhausting the process can be. For those of you who don’t: Imagine 20 doctor’s visits in 35 days, all scheduled for 0500 at a clinic 45 minutes from your home. Raging hormones and constant feedback about follicle development and estrogen levels make you feel like a stranger in your own skin. The mixing of drugs and self-administered injections is otherworldly. I felt like a mad scientist doing research on myself. This is the stuff of Hollywood sci-fi thrillers and Scooby Doo. I had sharps containers in every bathroom, vials of drugs lined up like soldiers in my refrigerator. And no one knew.
The cycle didn’t go well. My body did not respond to the stimulation like the doctors expected. Egg retrieval resulted in only 5 mature eggs. Only 2 eggs fertilized. At every turn, there was more disappointing news.
On the day I went in for embryo transfer, the doctor informed us that only one embryo was of sufficient quality. We transferred it knowing the odds of conception were depressingly low.
Clinging to the tiny secret life inside me, I went home to rest. Leading Man went back to work at the Pentagon.
He called home that afternoon with the only news that could rip these secrets from my grip. He’d received short-notice orders of another one-year deployment to Afghanistan. He’d depart in two weeks.
I’ll never know if that cycle would have worked out if the enormity of his news hadn’t pulled me under the waves. I felt like a drowning woman, clinging to secrets, hoping to stay afloat. I was tossed by waves of hormones, sadness and despair.
Before we knew whether cycle one was successful, Leading Man prepared for the cycles I might do alone. Powers of Attorney were written. Vials of tiny swimmers were stored. Next time – if there was a next time – I’d jump into these waters alone.
In July of 2009, I started IVF again. Alone, but not alone.
You see, I simply could not do this process (0500 doctor’s appointments, restrictions on lifting, self-administered injections) without any help. I had a 2 year old to take care of, and he wasn’t allowed at the clinic. I had a more-than-full-time job with enormous responsibilities. I had no back up at work. My husband was deployed.
Keeping this secret was absolutely impossible. I needed an army of babysitters willing to work at 0430 in the morning. I needed overnight care for my son when I went for retrieval and transfer. I needed a chaperone willing to go to surgery with me. I cried at the thought of giving all the painful progesterone in oil injections in the same hip, but couldn’t imagine how I’d give them on the left side.
Plus, if it worked, I would have to explain how I got knocked up while my husband was 8,000 miles away! May as well get ahead of the curve, right?
So I asked for help.
I called friends and asked if they’d babysit. I asked a former nurse at work if she’d give my left-side injections. I asked a coworker to chaperone me for the retrieval and transfer appointments. Although we’d known each other only 7 months, I gave her a medical Power of Attorney. I had no choice but to entrust my secrets to others.
That cycle went much more smoothly than the first. I had more mature eggs, the fertilization rate was better, and there were three grade 1 embryos to transfer.
One of them grew. And grew. And grew.
She is now a happy, healthy 17-pound 11-month old punk. She has seven crooked teeth. She eats cheerios with gusto. She climbs the stairs like she’s been shot from a cannon. It’s no secret that she’s the apple of our eyes.
I didn’t drown. Instead I was buoyed by sources of support I couldn’t fathom. The waves that threatened to pull me under calmed down. I floated above them, able to see them with greater detachment and wisdom. Safe at last.
This post inspired by brave travelers on the journey through the land of IF who are participating in IComLeavWe at Stirrup Queens. May your journey be better for sharing it. Post submitted to Wordful Wednesday at Seven Clown Circus and Parenting by Dummies and Pour Your Heart Out Wednesday at Things I Can't Say.