One Size Fits None

Realizing that you’re infertile is a pretty long and slow process, a process during which you do some pretty weird stuff in a vain attempt to get pregnant without medical intervention.

Kyle and I first decided to try getting pregnant a little less than a year after we were married. We were in an okay spot financially–Kyle had just gotten his bachelor’s degree and was looking for work, and I’d been working for a couple of months as a marketing assistant at a construction firm. We had health insurance of our own for the first time ever (Kyle had previously been on his parents’ insurance; I was uninsured until I got the job), and we had a darling apartment in a nice complex.

In truth, we weren’t really trying in those early days. We just stopped trying not to get pregnant. I wasn’t on hormonal birth control, so we just stopped using protection and enjoyed ourselves. My period was late the first month we tried, and the ladies in my office were all of a dither. My boss went out and bought me saltine crackers to cope with the nausea I had one day and promised, “We’re going to spoil you and this baby when it’s born!”

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(no complaints here)

And then I wasn’t pregnant at all. “It can take some time, don’t worry about it,” everyone said.

We went through a series of major life changes over the next several months. The economic crash that had wracked the rest of the country finally hit Dallas, and I lost my job because they couldn’t afford me anymore. With no prospects in Texas, Kyle and I moved up to live in the in-law apartment in my parents’ house, spending our days sending out resumes to anyone who would take them. Pregnancy was, for the most part, the last thing on my mind. Still, after our first anniversary in May, we decided to start actively trying to get pregnant. Sure, we weren’t in the best place financially, but we had a fantastic support network, and Kyle’s resume especially had been getting plenty of attention.

It happened in June: I was pregnant.

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I wasn’t surprised. My maternal family lore holds that women in our family get pregnant without any trouble, and here I was, pregnant the first month I actually tried. I didn’t know then, about loss and about trying for months and months on end without luck. I told my parents and Kyle told his. I told my grandmother, my aunt, and my uncle. I went to Babies R Us and tried to imagine squeezing cribs and bassinets and baby things into the tiny in-law apartment Kyle and I called home.

A week later, I started bleeding. My pregnancy tests no longer turned up positive. A quick session of Google-fu taught me that I’d experienced what’s known as a chemical pregnancy–basically, the egg fertilizes but doesn’t implant. Instead, it just gets flushed out of your system with any other menstrual waste. It’s remarkably common, to the point where plenty of people have likely experienced a chemical pregnancy without even knowing it; if you’re not expecting to get pregnant, it can just seem like a late period.

The good news was that plenty of people went on to get pregnant easily enough and have normal, healthy pregnancies immediately after having a chemical pregnancy. I was disappointed in the loss–not really heartbroken, just like if it rained on an expected beach day–but I thought I’d get pregnant again easily enough. And so, we kept trying.

Several months passed. Kyle got an amazing job, one that would eventually allow us to move out of the in-law apartment and into our own apartment–a decent-sized place with a living room that had a big picture window overlooking miles of rolling hills. I didn’t find work myself, but I kept busy cooking, running errands, and writing the manuscript for a novel. We visited Texas and had Texas visit us.

And we didn’t get pregnant.

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(I was honestly starting to feel like Charlie Brown)

By around September, I started to wonder if something was wrong. I spent a lot of my free time on various forums and websites, learning about the process of trying to conceive. The first step I should take in the process, the forums and websites advised, was to monitor my basal body temperature (my temperature when I first woke up in the morning). A spike in my basal body temperature from one morning to the next meant that I’d ovulated, though the overall goal was to establish a predictable pattern.

I was also to monitor my cervical mucus. Fun fact: cervical mucus changes consistency over the course of your menstrual cycle. When it’s the consistency of egg whites (yes, that is the exact consistency you’re supposed to look for), you’re ovulating and should do the do in order to get pregnant. There’s a fantastic scientific explanation for this, but instead of copying it all here, I’ll just recommend watching The Great Sperm Race, a BBC documentary that explains all of this in great detail (and is narrated by Richard Armitage, who is lovely).

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(I could look at that smile all day…)

I monitored these things religiously, using a little app to track both my temperature and the consistency of my cervical mucus. Kyle, bless his heart, got to hear all the gory details and pretended not to mind when sex went from a spontaneous act of newlywed horniness to a Very Scientific Process Based On Collected Data. He gamely went along for the ride, even when it involved hearing way more information on his wife’s body than he ever needed to know.

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But still, nothing. Some months, I bought boxes of home pregnancy tests and used them all, hoping against hope to see something there. Other months, I didn’t even get a chance to buy any tests; my period just showed right up.

In December, still less than a year from when we’d started trying, I had a menstrual cycle that lasted 42 days; my cycles to that point had been averaging around 28 days, which is exactly normal. This concerned me enough that I set up an appointment with my doctor, peeing on home pregnancy tests in vain all the while.

I started toying around with naturopathy and homeopathy and lots of other pathys. One website suggested that I take a bunch of Vitamin C to support progesterone production and endometrial growth. Another recommended a cocktail of essential oils–Clary Sage, Ylang Ylang, Lavender, Geranium–that I could massage into my skin or bathe in to encourage fertility. Nearly everyone recommended various lubricants that “mimicked the natural fluids a woman’s body uses to encourage conception.”

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(it’s been like five years and this is still the reaction I have to the word “fluids”)

I ran out of Vitamin C supplements well before I got pregnant. As for the essential oils, they made things greasy and unpleasant, and the bottle sprung a leak about a week after it arrived. The lube didn’t seem to do much at all.

But nada, nada, nada. For fourteen months, nada.

Obviously, it eventually happened, as evidenced by Sam’s existence, but it was a frustrating process. The only thing that really ended up helping was a course of clomid, and I can’t even point to that as the solution–it was my second cycle on the drug, and when I tried it again two years ago, it did exactly nothing.

And that’s the most aggravating thing. So much of infertility treatment is a craps shoot. You try this drug and maybe it works and maybe it doesn’t. You try a certain diet and maybe it works and maybe it doesn’t. You do yoga and get acupuncture and use essential oils and have procedures and tests and everything done and maybe you get lucky and something works, but maybe it doesn’t. You want to believe that a treatment that worked so well for someone else will work for you, but everyone’s hormone makeup is so different, everyone responds so differently to treatments, that you just can’t know.

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