Saturday, March 11, 2006

A word (or a thousand) about infertility

My bloggy and real-world buddy, Elle, seemed a little taken aback by my casual mention of my fertility problems. Seeing as how we barely knew each other back in the day, and we know each other much better now, that's not hard to understand. To look at me now, I'm the healthy mother of two, still not much past 30, and complaining rather staunchly anytime I'm not a regular-28-day-gal for fear I'll find myself preggers again. So what's with the infertility?

Let us hearken back to those halcyon days of the spring of 2001. Back when the world was new and everything seemed possible. Spouse and I decided it was time to start a family. I went off the pill. Nothing. five long months of nothing. I mean, no periods, no nothing. After everyone had warned me about psychotic periods when you come down off your artificial hormonal high.

I worried a bit, but not too much. But then, since I'm mired in an extended family tree of fantastic doctors, one very wonderful cousin suggested I go see a gynecologist. Scratch that: make it a reproductive endocrinologist. Evidently, Dr. Cousin had noted some symptoms in me for a while yet, but since I wasn't having any problems, she kept her mouth shut.

Meanwhile, deprived of my fake hormonal intake since I went off the pill, my hair began to fall out. Significantly. I worried a bit more.

So in the fall of 2001 -- let's say about a month after 9/11 when everyone was just feeling peachy -- I went to see a reproductive endocrinologist. Her diagnosis: while not textbook on the outside (I'm not particularly hairy or heavyset), on the inside I was textbook PCOS -- Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. A very scary name for "your ovaries are lazy and don't like developing or spitting out the eggs." This is the most common cause of female infertility in our country, with some estimates saying that 5-10% of women have it.

Let's just say I freaked. The RE kept reassuring me that we had plenty of time, there were plenty of treatment options, and "we'll get you pregnant." (Now that's an oddly constructed sentence!) So between crying jags, I researched my options. Yes, there's about a 50% success rate for my particular situation. And I was young. So we started off pretty slowly.

I began hormone treatment:
1. Provera to bring on a period.
2. Clomid (low dose) to bring on an egg.
3. Doing it like bunnies.
4. Waiting.
5. Negative pregnancy test. Cry.
6. Repeat.

One little snag: Provera is known to cause birth defects, so you have to be very sure that you're not pregnant before you begin the medication again. And since I don't get periods naturally, every month there was that liminal am-I-pregnant-or-am-I-just-crazy time before I would run out to the store, get a pregnancy test, get a negative response, and start on the Provera again. (Isn't it ironic, dontcha think?)

The other fun thing: The label for Provera warned me that it may make me depressed or anxious. Like I needed any help there. Thankfully, I had many wonderful talks with two very important people in my life -- one who (as a gay male with no family aspirations) felt he was totally out of his element, but was incredibly supportive anyway, and one who had had her own fertility problems (of the permanent and irreversible kind: hysterectomy) in the past. Seriously could NOT have gotten through with any shred of sanity had it not been for those two wonderful people.

I felt very alone, but I was not. My mom started calling me and saying things like "Katie Couric was talking about your situation yesterday!" (maybe that made it more real to her.) My grandmother and I had a wonderful chat ending with her saying, "I wonder if I had that!" She conceived once in all her reproductive years. She had acne and hair loss. I'm thinking there's something to her theory. PCOS wasn't exactly on the radar back in the 1940s.

We did the hormone treatment for a few months. The first month of the treatment, I felt so weird that I was convinced I was pregnant. After the negative test, Spouse theorized that I was probably feeling what everybody else feels -- an actual regular hormonal cycle. Every month was difficult, craziness-inducing, and (when the test showed negative) heart-breaking. And then... the thin blue line.

We succeeded in conceiving after about 6 months on the treatment. We never had to up the dosage or think seriously about IVF or IUI -- although Spouse, I know, was already putting money aside for the possibility, while I was already making contacts with a friend who works with an international adoption agency. We jumped the gun a bit. The Drama Queen was born in Janary of 2003.

After all that hassle, it seemed rather silly to consider birth control in the wake of her birth. We figured, if it happened, great. If not, we'd cross that bridge when we came to it. Sure enough, we conceived The Wild Boy a little over a year later, almost exactly when I weaned my daughter. DQ was 23 months old when he was born. I was 31. I was so lucky.

The months after 9/11 and before I discovered I was pregnant were by far the toughest of my life. I hear the stories of friends and read the blogs of people who have done this for years, with far more invasive treatments than I used, and far more failures, and I can't even fathom how they hold up.

And on the other side, there are the women who conceive accidentally, unprepared for the sudden situation they're thrust into. This reminds me of a previous discussion about white vs. black feminism, and how we must not discount someone else's experience of oppression just because it does not jive with our own. In an ideal world, we would all be able to say "I would like to get pregnant RIGHT NOW" and have it happen. But that's not the way the world works. But we have each other to provide support for whatever challenges we face. That's a blessing.

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Blogger Neel Mehta said...

That was a nice, insightful post. Only...

3. Doing it like bunnies.


My fertility is about the furthest thing from my mind. Of course, as an unmarried male, that's probably normal. Especially since I have no kids. Well, no kids that I know about.

2:35 PM  
Anonymous johng said...

Wanna know something funny? Almost 10 years ago the wife and I were going through a pretty similar medical routine, only we lived in L.A. so we were driving down to Tijuana to buy the meds cheap and typically drinking lots of tequila on those runs after the negative tests.

Anyway, the result of all that is now nine years old. And is name is Quinn.

5:10 PM  
Blogger Andy said...

Wow...intensely personal, thanks much for sharing, really. I thought the bunny reference was adorable.

11:55 AM  
Blogger Quinn said...

hey, gotta lighten the mood somehow

12:40 PM  

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