Excerpts - Infertility Sucks
SO IT BEGINS...
“You can’t have children.”
I never understood how a doctor made that definitive diagnosis based off of a single sonogram. Yet there it was—his words a knife stabbing into my brain as I laid on a gurney in Manatee Memorial’s emergency room. Maybe the muscle relaxer they’d shot me with was a touch too strong.
I blinked at him, dumbfounded. I must have heard wrong.
“I’m sorry, what did you say?”
The doctor, with his shellacked gray coif, glanced at the sonogram machine. There, a picture of my reproduction organs glowed from a small, square screen. “From what I see, you can’t have children. My recommendation is an oophorectomy. I can have you admitted tonight, and…”
I caught only fragments of what he said. I was more focused on the condescension in his tone as he spoke to me. But, I let him finish before I asked him to explain an oophorectomy. It sounded awful.
“It’s the removal of your ovaries.”
Oh, hell no.
If I’d been older and wiser, I would have torn him a new asshole for his arrogance and rash diagnosis. Instead, I was a frightened twenty-one-year-old alone and tormented by pain. I curled into a tight ball and wrapped my arms around myself, needing a barrier between him and my body.
He ended his ‘recommendation’ with, “I’ll have your husband brought in…”
Again, his voice became background noise. A million thoughts flashed through my mind, but one rang the loudest: Never have children. When other kids had grand aspirations of becoming astronauts or teachers, I dreamed of motherhood. A doctor or not, this man wasn’t going to steal that from me based on one sonogram.
With my brain murky, I shook my head. “My husband is home. I’m alone.”
I’d been with my ex since we were fifteen. Three years later, we moved to Port Charlotte to gain independence from my parents. The move failed. We returned to New York after only a few months, but gave Florida another go a year later. This time, we settled in Bradenton. With my family up North and my ex home, I never felt more alone than I did that night.
The doctor added that a ruptured ovarian cyst is what brought me to the ER. He mentioned he’d seen smaller cysts, which might, eventually, be problematic. I’d already suffered from abdominal issues for two years and mastered powering through the pain. A few more cysts meant nothing to me.
Not that anyone believed me about the constant pain, anyway. I got accused of making it up, or exaggerating for attention.
The pretense extended beyond my abdominal problem. My marriage was a mess, my life was a disaster, and I hovered dangerously close to the edge of depression. But, I masked my misery with a fake smile and soldiered on.
My parents had a volatile relationship from the 70s until the mid-90s. While they’d fought, my sister and brother were off doing their own thing. More often than not, I’d felt pushed aside while my family lived their own lives. I became a hypochondriac to cope with loneliness. Everyone pampered me and showered me with attention whenever I was ‘sick.’ But by eighteen, those days were behind me. I grew into a kid who lived in an adult world. I lacked the luxury of being sick, much less playing sick. Rent and utilities had to be paid. Food had to be bought. I couldn’t lounge around all day when my ex and I barely earned enough to survive.
But what surprised me was the intensity of my family’s skepticism of my affliction. Even after I had proof of a problem, they dismissed me. Doctors scoffed when I voiced concern over my period having an abnormally heavy flow that lasted much longer than the typical seven days.
Sadly, I’m not alone when it comes to being dismissed by medical professionals. An obscene number of women suffer from ‘mystery’ pain, and/or fertility and menstruation problems. We are an ignored army of sisters screaming to be heard and believed.
My period started when I was eleven. To call it erratic is an understatement. My first gynecologist, our family physician, was a sweetheart who had a habit of asking after my parents while he had me in stirrups.
He put me on birth control pills when I was fifteen to regulate my cycle. After a year, I gave them up. All they did was bloat me and make me moody.
I bled for the better part of every month. My actual period lasted more than a week, with no less than ten additional days of substantial spotting. This led to lightheadedness and lethargy. My irregular cycle finally regulated itself—somewhat—during my mid-twenties. My flow remained heavy, but it no longer lingered for the entire month.
Nothing in my life—not then, and not now—embarrassed me more than my period. It became my dirty secret.
I’d visited countless gynecologists in Brooklyn, Florida, and Staten Island—the latter where a doctor asked me on a date after he’d given me an internal exam. To this day I don’t know if I should be flattered or appalled.
I’m going to go with appalled. The man was an unprofessional jerkoff.
At nineteen, the situation worsened. Chronic abdominal pain set in. I conditioned myself to ignore the twice-monthly bouts of agony, with an underlying dull ache that never eased. It peaked when I ovulated, and again with my period. I popped ibuprofen like candy and became best friends with a heating pad. But nothing truly helped.
My menstrual cycle interfered with all aspects of my life. I spent a small fortune on pads and tampons. Forget sex or wearing white. I never went anywhere that didn’t have a bathroom. Eventually, I grew resigned at being a broken engine struggling along the track.
The trip to Manatee Memorial confirmed I had a legit medical issue—one that jeopardized my ability to have children. This wasn’t my imagination, nor was I a hypochondriac. But even armed with proof, my family accused me of exaggerating the situation.
After the doctor marched out of the room, I slid off the gurney and limped my way out of the ER. I took a cab home (I didn’t drive until I was twenty-three), and cried the entire ride back to my apartment. Quietly, so as not to wake my ex, I showered and sat out on the balcony with a cup of tea. I stared at the sky and wondered what I’d done to deserve such a shitty lot in life.
Oh, yeah. You bet I threw myself one hell of a pity-party.
The next morning, I stayed curled up in bed. The possibility of a childless future tore through me. What good was I if I couldn’t have kids? With my purpose gone, I wanted to rot away into nothingness.
As I write this, twenty-five years separate me from that night at Manatee Memorial. Not only are my ovaries healthy, but I’ve also been cyst free since the birth of my first child.
Yep, you read that right. My first child. I’m the proud mom of two daughters.
Obviously, the ER doctor was wrong. It’s not that I would never have children. I just had to work harder for mine.
Of course, I didn’t do it alone…
When one suffers fertility issues, one’s reproductive organs and menstrual cycle become frequent topics of conversation. A woman undergoing treatment tends to get mighty comfortable discussing intimate details as if she’s talking about the weather. Hence, why I can write about drinking a laxative and body fluids all day long.
You even grow accustomed to the look. Ladies, you know what I mean. The leer that screams, “so, you’re having sex, like, all the time, right? Did you just have sex? Are you gonna have sex later?”
Sex, sex, sex…
Yep, you do. Sex becomes a full-time job. Temperatures are taken. Fluids are analyzed. It’s all very regulated and tedious.
I have to thank The Mummy for helping us get through this period in our quest to have a child. Not the shitty reboot. The fun and snappy 1999 version. Here’s why. When Frankie and I moved in together, we were the level of poor where we counted change to buy food. We ate struggle sandwiches and paid every bill late. Cable was for fancy folks. Our one splurge was internet. Providers used to give incentive gifts to attract customers. So, we shelled out the $20 a month and got a free DVD player when we signed up for service.
Here’s where The Mummy comes in.
During our cable blackout period, we re-watched The Mummy at least a gazillion times. When trying to conceive, we resorted to our old favorite. Although at that point we had cable, it was only hooked up to the living room television. We kept our snazzy free DVD player in the bedroom. After sex, we’d put on The Mummy. I’d lay at the head of the bed with my legs up against the wall. Frankie reclined beside me while we watched the movie, with me practically upside down.
We figured this gave gravity a helping hand in pulling the sperm toward any waiting eggs.
I’m dead serious about this—and well aware of the ridiculousness of the situation.
But, we’re not alone. I’ve talked to a ton of women who did this same thing—minus The Mummy—in their desperation to get pregnant.
This method, as expected, didn’t work.
Doctor A, at a loss, referred us to Dr. W, who was an endometriosis specialist.
This exam was as fun as a splinter in your eye, and as dignified as getting a pap smear in the middle of Times Square. During the Christmas rush. With the procedure projected on the Jumbotron.
A common in vitro fertilization misconception is that once you’re pregnant, you come off all medication. Wouldn’t that be nice? But, nope. We remain on progesterone to help create a healthy uterine environment.
IVF pregnancies are high-risk during the first trimester. That drug is vital for the uterus lining to grow thick enough to support the embryo. And with twenty days of shots still ahead of me, we tried different everything to make the needles tolerable. Nothing worked. One night, Frankie had trouble with the injection.
Thank goodness this only happened once.
First came the sting of the needle. Then I heard, “Oops.”
Oh, hell no.
My husband didn’t just mumble that while perched over my bare ass while wielding a damn harpoon.
“Oops? Are you fucking kidding me?” I demanded.
He leaped back and left the syringe dangling from my cheek. “I think I hit something. What do I do?”
He pierced a capillary and sprung a bloody leak.
“What are you asking me for? You’re the pro at this. Pull it out and do it again.”
When he stuck me again, I swear to god, I thought he hit bone. I bled for a good long while afterward and had to wear a Band-Aid to bed.