Infertility and Choosing Motherhood

When we first got married, my husband, Jon, and I figured we’d eventually have three children, but agreed to wait and enjoy life with just the two of us for a good long while. During those first couple years, my periods went from problematic to extremely painful, and then debilitating, culminating in an embarrassing incident in the mother’s room at church where an investigator found me writhing on the floor and throwing up from pain. Visitors welcome! This was a turning point for me though, because once I was recovered enough for Jon to walk me to the car, the Primary president (who was the first person the investigator found when she ran for help, whom Jon had to talk down from calling an ambulance) kindly insisted, “This isn’t normal; it doesn’t need to be like this,” and urged me to see the reproductive endocrinologist who had helped her daughter with similar symptoms. I made an appointment the next day.

He believed me. I cried in his office! (I am not a public crier.) I was just so grateful to be validated instead of having my pain be downplayed again. (I had been told by more than one doctor to just take Midol.)

An ultrasound showed the tissue buildup, cysts, and inflammation indicative of endometriosis – not so severe as to warrant surgery right away, but it needed to be monitored and managed. He was willing to write me a prescription for vicodin, if I wanted it, but recommended that I do one better and just eliminate the source of the pain instead. This was the first I had ever heard of continuous birth control. Not a special type of birth control, mind you; just taking my birth control continually, skipping the sugar pills. No periods (the break between birth control cycles isn’t a true period, anyway), no internal bleeding, no additional tissue build-up, no pain. This was life-changing for me, and probably saved what little fertility I had left. He also said that if and when Jon and I decided to have children, to see a fertility doctor right away – don’t waste time going off birth control for the generally-recommended year before seeing a specialist. It was unlikely, in his opinion, that I could conceive naturally, and each passing cycle would continue to reduce my fertility and cause unnecessary pain.

Years passed. We moved overseas, and then to Phoenix. I never felt that pull to motherhood that I’d heard so much about – it seemed like someone had forgotten the biological clock when my skin suit passed through the assembly line. I wanted to want to have a baby…but that was it. There were even times that I thought, perfectly reasonably, that my lack of desire probably meant I was going to die young.

Once we had been back in Arizona for a year, though, we decided to see a fertility specialist, mostly because we’d been married for 7 years at that point and it seemed like our time was up (we were Mormon, after all!). We saw Dr. Behera at the Fertility Treatment Center for 1, then 2, then 3, then 4 rounds of intrauterine insemination. I grew increasingly upset with each failed cycle, but was keenly aware that my emotions stemmed from the money we were wasting, not from the elusive positive pregnancy test.

After our last round, the doctor explained that based on my bloodwork, which showed my eggs to be disproportionately old and dying like mayflies (my words, not hers), and the failed IUIs, she didn’t see the current route working. IVF was the next step. We didn’t have the money for it then, even with my parents offering to pay for part, and I wasn’t certain I wanted to do it at all. How can you justify that much money, and that much emotional capital, if you don’t desperately, desperately want a baby? If you’re not actively mourning your lack of children?

And so several more years passed. During this time, I think I scared Jon by shifting the conversation away from “when, eventually” and hinting more toward “maybe we don’t…?” Up until this point, we had completely been on the same page, kids being some vague future concept, nothing pressing. We hardly ever talked about it, though. I think we figured that when one of us felt a strong desire, we’d bring it up. But I could tell that me implying that maybe we’d never have kids made him uncomfortable. So I piped down, even though internally I all but made the decision.

Normally I’m an open book, but this topic I kept closed to almost everyone. I treated it like a dirty secret, out of fear of being judged or considered a monster by my predominantly Mormon friends and family members. At the same time, it made me feel squirmy knowing people were pitying me, based on the usual assumptions one makes about an LDS couple married 10+ years and childless. (The twist, of course, was that while the usual assumptions were correct – I was infertile – I was also fine with it, and we had only spent a grand total of 4 months trying to conceive at this point.)

During these many years, I’m sure that people I love tiptoed around their own happy news, worried that it would upset me. I feel some guilt over this, that they may have downplayed their own happiness to spare my feelings. So, to anyone who had a child before me, please know that I never felt anything but joy for you. No bittersweetness. All sweet; no bitter.

A few months before our 12th anniversary, I got a text from my sister-in-law Lianna. She had dreamt that she was carrying my baby as a surrogate. “I know nothing about your situation, and I’m not asking. But it was the most incredible dream ever…and just know that I would do ANYTHING for you. I mean it. Including being a surrogate mother for you.” I was deeply touched, and relayed the message to Jon in a “not-that-we’ll-ever-need-it-but-so-amazing-of-her-to-offer” type of way. Jon was alarmed by the finality he detected in my text. It was time to Talk About Things.

He wanted a child. But, knowing that the burden of IVF, pregnancy, and delivery would entirely be on me, he acknowledged that it was 100% my choice. If he had pressured me at all, I’m sure I would have balked. Instead, we poured out our hearts to each other for weeks, and he helped me through most of my fears. (We made literal lists of our fears. His was short. Mine was very, very, incredibly long.)

The main turning point for me was when I realized we could have one child. I’d had three in my mind for so long – this idea that we’d start our family, and then have to have another, and then have to have another, and we were already beginning late – that it was revelatory to imagine us being a family of 3.

After hours of these conversations and a couple of what I can only, reluctantly, describe as spiritual impressions, I decided to go ahead and try IVF once, for one child. If it happened, it happened, if it didn’t, it didn’t, but at least we wouldn’t be facing regret or resentment later on at not having tried. (I’m aware of the HUGE display of privilege in this statement, to have approached something as cost-prohibitive and emotionally-charged as IVF with this mindset.)

With the decision made, I didn’t see the point in stalling (even though I very nearly changed my mind when 45 won the election). I wasn’t getting any younger, as they say, and meanwhile my eggs were turning to dust. So we went on the most wonderful “last hoorah” trip to New York City where we spent Thanksgiving and my 31st birthday, then returned to Dr. Behera, who now had her own clinic, Bloom Reproductive Institute, to get the mandatory diagnostic tests and procedures taken care of in December before beginning IVF in January of 2017.

After weeks of daily injections, she retrieved 9 eggs from me, 8 of which were mature enough use, all of which fertilized properly overnight, and 4 of which grew into blastocysts over the course of the week. We were excited to have 4 seemingly good-quality embryos, even though it meant we might end up with extras to make decisions about if we achieved pregnancy. More embryos gave us more chances. (There’s only about a 30% success rate per transfer cycle.)

But then we got the results of our genetic testing. A very apologetic RN informed us that three of our embryos were genetically abnormal: “Not conducive to life.” With that phone call, our four chances became one.

The lonesome blastocyst went on ice so my body could have a month-long break before another round of meds, tailored this time for preparing my uterus to receive the embryo. (I joked that we were putting all of our Egg in one basket.) This cycle was exponentially harder on me than the first; it sickened and exhausted me and stripped me of nearly all emotion.

The day before our transfer, I received a belated birthday present from my best friend Christa, who had had no idea we were going through this process. It was a print of Brian Kershisnik’s “She Will Find What Is Lost,” and it was like receiving a blessing from her in the mail.

I was supposed to wait 10 days after the transfer for a blood test, but on the 3rd night I woke up to some moderate cramping and I was almost certain it was our little embryo, nestling in. Two days later (five days post-transfer), I decided to take a home test just to see – reminding myself that it was really early and that a negative at that point didn’t necessarily mean that the IVF didn’t work.

But there it was. A faint but undeniable line that made my head swim and my heart race.

We only had one embryo. And it was her.

Claire, did you come a month early because you were eager to meet us? I needed time to choose this journey. But in my defense, I didn’t know you would be you.

jessie3

Comments

  1. Thank you so much for sharing your story! And how beautiful a journey it was with a wonderful gift at the end. Some of us (me among them) aren’t mothers. Like you I never felt a pressing need for children, and I married late in life AND someone who was a non-member who didn’t want (more) children. He had two with his first wife. The news to family and some co-workers that I wasn’t going to EVER be a mother was met with disbelief, censure, sympathy, pity and a “what’s wrong with YOU” attitude from some. Admittedly it was a very hard decision and now, in the winter years of my life, I wonder if it was the right one. I did gain a measure of comfort from the idea that my children wait for me on the other side of the veil and there I can be the mother to them that I couldn’t in this life. Reading stories such as yours gives me peace and hope that some of us aren’t mothers on earth, we’re to be mothers in heaven. And that the decision not to have children, as a member of the LDS Church, is between us and God, and is truly no one else’s business. Thank you again.

  2. Dog Spirit says:

    That last paragraph just made my heart swell up as I sit here rocking my sleeping baby after my own fertility journey that, although it wasn’t as medically difficult, shares some commonalities with yours. Thanks for sharing your story.

  3. You made me cry! But I forgive you. God bless your family of 3.

  4. ashley hoiland says:

    oh my. just some little tears over here. so beautifully written and such an honest and good story. I hope you print this out for Claire to have when she is older.

  5. Beautiful.
    😭♥️♥️

  6. Three is a good number.

  7. Crying in the library. So glad you and Claire wound up in each others’ arms. This is just beautiful.

  8. Kevin Barney says:

    Perfectly lovely!

  9. Breathtaking post. Thank you. My wife and I had our own journey through infertility, and the struggle and fears between hoping and getting to the end with a healthy child are immense. Glad we live in times where medicine is as advanced as it is. And now our daughter can be forearmed with knowledge of what her mother had to go through.

  10. Currently in limbo says:

    A lot resonating with our own situation here, but moreso: neither of us have overwhelming feelings though we’d like to be parents, no identifiable medical issues, older and married longer .. and currently have one single viable blastocyst on ice. We’ve had to stop my MIL from referring to it as “the baby,” which seems both irresponsible given the statistics and also creates too much emotional tension.

    Thank you for the post

  11. Linda Finder says:

    I’m happy for you. All the best of luck to you and your family. Thanks for being willing to share all aspects of the story.

  12. Love love love everything about this, and your willingness to share.

  13. This was beautifully written, thank you for sharing.

  14. I have no natural connection or experience with these issues to tap into, and yet I’m in tears. Good writing, and I’m glad for Claire at the end.

  15. What a beautiful story.

  16. Ah! So many tears right now! I love this so much—a beautiful, warm, real essay. I am also so proud of that ward member who knew something was up and validated your pain, and I’m glad you found doctors who believed you. Thank you so much for sharing this story. I agree with Ashmae that you should print and keep this for Claire (who legitimately is the cutest baby I’ve ever seen).

  17. Enjoy following you on Twitter and thank you for sharing. As part of a couple in the middle of it, it’s nice to hear it talked about.

  18. We did three rounds of IVF. The second took but was ectopic and had to be terminated. We ultimately adopted 3 wonderful boys. I had a few takeaways. First, infertility will be one of the questions I ask God at the pearly gates. Given the commandment and covenant to multiply, pursuing righteous desires, etc. it is difficult to understand. Second, the number of people telling us not to adopt due to unknown blood lineage was disturbing. Third, as with many challenges the number of people offering advice and comments that were well meaning but ultimately tone deaf and insulting were difficult to endure. Last, the number of people who have reached out to us after hearing our story is suprising. It’s all around us. Congrats on your baby.

  19. Oh, my. Thank you, Jessie.

  20. Rachel Robinson says:

    Wow thank you for this. I have a very similar story… I always felt guilty for letting people believe that I wasn’t haven’t kids because of infertility. And I felt guilty when seeing all the women at the fertility clinic who desperately wanted to be mothers, but I was indifferent. Having fertility problems was a huge blessing for me, because it forced me to REALLY CHOOSE motherhood. And I eventually did :)

  21. This is so, so lovely. Thank you for bravely and vulnerably sharing it with us. <3

  22. EnglishTeacher says:

    So much resonates with me in this post–from infertility to lack of maternal longing to wondering if maternal longing was just a thing I was told I needed to have to eventually coming around to IVF because of impressions that finally came when I dared really ask. We are still in the thick (and sick) of it as I prepare for testing, but I’m grateful for your willingness to so honestly share with us.

  23. This is great. Thanks for sharing.

    My wife and I dealt with infertility for years. We adopted through LDS Family Services for our first. The boy we adopted was the last baby that LDS Family Services stopped placing adoptions (this was because they operated as a business and did not want to be sued for discriminating against gay couples). For our second, we did IVF. My wife got pregnant on the second try. So we can definitely identify with a part of what you’ve been through. So happy for you and your little one!

  24. Thank you for this! Infertility is a club that’s always bigger than you know. We did 3 rounds of IVF, with no success. I wish I’d really been aware of the statistics for IVF (although I thought I was) because I was not prepared to spend all of our savings with nothing to show for it except heartbreak. We eventually adopted and are a family of 3, likely to stay that way.

  25. This is a beautiful story.

    We couldn’t have children for the first 5 years. My heart goes out to the many people who want children and cannot have them. I was in the military and those doctors had trouble with normal pregnancy, nothing like your miraculous medical options for us then. My wife had a complex rare allergic condition to placenta anchoring proteins and it can cross react to similar proteins in her skin. Any conceptus found a hostile uterus.

    We didn’t know this and somehow our daughter dodged the immune response. She is a strong willed, sassy one. I say the doctor didn’t slap her on the rump when she was born, she slapped him on the surgical mask. (Almost true). To further complicate things the birthing process almost killed my wife for other reasons. Then a few days later she looked like she had the worst sunburn ever and it progressed to large blisters. That got everyone’s attention at the university and a diagnosis was made.

    We were advised that one was enough. Consider adoption which I thought was sound advice. The reaction could generalize from pregnancy related to all the time. But my wife felt that we should have another baby. A couple years later she went on steroids and conceived. At 3 months the red skin appeared. More steroids and more red skin. It was a battle we seemed destined to lose. I read that high doses of steroids can cause low intelligence and stunted growth in the baby. When do you give up and let nature take its course? They brought him into the world at 34 weeks by C-section. He weighed over 8 pounds, 3 pounds more than his sister who was full term.

    This boy grew in stature to where he has the physique to play college football if he wanted. He was a triple 800 on the SAT and completed a 5 year physics and math degree at a top 3 STEM institute in 3 years and was named the top physics student and top math student there. He teaches college physics now, has published several significant papers and is barely 25 years old. He is intense, yet one of the most kind and gentle souls I know. The Lord seems to walk with him.

    This process of wading literally through the valley of death to have children changed my wife. She went from being aloof from children and little interested in home making activities, rather she was an excellent computer programmer making twice as much money as I- to “programming children.” She teaches pre-school and helps young moms, often detached from older female relatives, figure out how to better raise their children and she does tons of volunteer work. A friend of ours and her started the first BSA scout troop for girls in the area last week and I am an assistant scout master pegged to teach outdoor skills and plan camping trips for a bunch of 11 year olds. (Not glamping trips).

    I suspect, Sister Jensen, these experiences will change you more than you expect and probably in ways I don’t expect. I am happy for you.

  26. Jack Hughes says:

    Thank you for sharing this story. It’s a familiar one, as my wife and I had our own fertility struggles (miscarriages, failed adoption, finally successful IVF). There is still unfortunately some social stigma against talking about such things publicly, but it has decreased significantly since my mom’s childbearing years; she was childless for her first five years of marriage, and harshly judged and ostracized by other women at church. I applaud your courage.

    The stress of infertility-related issues was a major trial for us, and was a contributing factor to my faith crisis. Even now, with a wonderful little family, my wife and I still find ourselves criticizing and judging couples who we perceive to be reckless with the powers of procreation (more kids than they can afford or reasonably take care of, etc.). So I guess it cuts both ways.

  27. Thanks so much for this, Jessie. I think we maybe have the same life? Ha – hoping my story will turn out like yours.

    I realized at some point while dealing with infertility that I had this soundbite lodged in my head: “having an only child is just cruel – how could you do that to the kid?” It was said as a joke – something about the parents ganging up on the kid I guess? But I realized it was creating so much unnecessary shame and exhaustion – how could I go on planning for the 3 kids I always wanted when having one felt impossible? It’s a perception I’ve had to shake as I’ve moved into more and more intentional (and expensive) treatments. I cannot have this mindset where it’s a big family or nothing. I cannot face IVF once if I’m already imagining doing it two more times. It’s natural I suppose to expect a big family, when it’s what we grew up with and are often surrounded by at church. But I’m having to really separate my experience from anyone else’s and let it be what WE want, and can even make happen. Anyway. Thanks for sharing your story. And congrats on beautiful Claire!

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