Many women venture into infertility treatments hoping for a pregnancy within a year. But, many women find they may strive for years and spend thousands upon thousands of dollars (see: “Funding the Babychase: How to Pay for Infertility Treatments”), only to have to resign themselves to exploring adoption. This means, for many couples, four or more years may go by before they are parents since the adoption process can take a long time as well. (See “This Baby’s Mommy”).
E. M. Mee is a woman who now refers to herself as a certified expert in infertility treatments. She is quickly becoming an expert in navigating the paperwork and application process when trying to adopt a child from China as well. Since E.M. has been through years of infertility treatments, she kindly agreed to share what she has learned to help others who are beginning their own journey.
Laura: How long have you been going through infertility treatments?
E.M.: We started about three and a half years ago. In the world of infertility, three years is hardly a long time. I was thirty-three when we started, so everyone was very optimistic. I had a laparoscopy very early, after only a few months of trying. My husband is older and we didn’t want to waste any time. The lap confirmed that I had stage-four endometriosis. The reproductive endocrinologist (RE) explained that I probably wouldn’t get pregnant without IVF (in vitro fertilization), but he recommended a few IUIs (intrauterine inseminations) since my insurance covered IUI. My husband was skeptical and thought we needed a second opinion. I had a short-term job in California, so we went to an RE there, thinking it would be easier to get an honest opinion from someone who wouldn’t actually be treating us. She was a lovely woman who confirmed the first RE’s opinion and suggested skipping the IUIs altogether. I’m grateful we took her advice. We went straight to IVF. Two failed complete cycles. Two no-start cycles because of ovarian cysts. (For a thorough explanation of IUI and IVF see: “Fertility Treatments, Demystified”)
After the second no-start, I decided to take a break. We interviewed a natural cycle RE and did all the prep work. We’ll do some more cycles starting in April or May. I also went to a reproductive immunologist. If there was a test available, we signed up for it.
Laura: Would you advise others not to share these experiences with family and friends, who may want to talk about it with you later when you’d rather not?
E.M.: I think it’s very difficult to go through this process alone. It’s tempting to just tell everyone what’s going on—especially when you’re in the middle of an IVF cycle which is full of ups and downs. Suddenly you want to tell everyone everything. “My estrogen is over 600… I have seventeen eggs! I have no embryos…” etcetera, etcetera. From experience, I think it’s better to keep things close to the chest. You’re on drugs, you’re emotional, you’re in a state of expectation and anxiety, and you don’t want to have to manage other people’s expectations too. So you might want to keep the details of an IVF cycle quiet. If you get pregnant, you’ll have good news. If you don’t, you’ll be able to bear it alone.
When the second cycle failed, I was so upset I had my husband call everyone we had told. He even called my Mom. I just couldn’t bear it. He did an extraordinary job. But I’m not sure every partner would want the assignment.
Honestly, I think it’s good to tell only those who have been through it or who are very, very close to you. It’s better to rely on support groups, internet chat groups, etc… It can be tough to get overly involved with internet or support groups because inevitably some people will get pregnant and some will not. Typically, the pregnant people are in a state of high anxiety—worrying about maintaining the pregnancy—and it can get hard to continue to be supportive when your own cycle has failed. This said, if you trust a friend (or potentially two friends), you can tell them what kind of questions you can handle and how much you want them to be involved.
Laura: Were you shocked by what some of your friends or family would ask you?
E.M.: Completely shocked. As an example, the very first thing one friend said to me, after I told him we planned to go through IF treatments, is that we should be worried about birth defects with IVF. This is from a nice guy with two kids of his own. As if I had never considered the question. My husband and I had been tested for everything; we had done a ton of research about genetic defects, IVF-related problems, etcetera. We were super-educated about it and had been through a number of difficult discussions.
Essentially, we calculated that our risk was four percent instead of the “normal” two percent. I wondered if he had even given a second’s thought to his own possible risk factors. Also, my brother is brain damaged, but not from birth, from a childhood illness, so his question was twice as insensitive. I’ve never forgotten it.
A lot of friends say things like, “oh, it’ll work out.” My mother keeps saying, “miracles happen,” which in the face of hard facts is super unhelpful.
Or they tell you horror stories. “I had a friend who lost three babies,” type of stories. Even my OBGYN had to tell me a horror adoption story about a couple she knows who lost their referral in China because of SARS. I think it’s because people are at a loss—they don’t know what to say—so they come up with platitudes to dismiss the difficulty or they exaggerate the dangers or the trauma of childlessness.
Laura: What would you rather a friend/family member say to you—or not say? Is it preferable that they not ask about how it is going every month, for instance?
E.M.: I think it’s okay to raise the question occasionally. The question should be open-ended, such as: “How are you feeling these days about your adoption/treatments?” Or just how are you doing? It shouldn’t be a question posed with urgency, like: “What are you going to do?” Or: “Will that be soon?” Remember that everything takes time: tests, cycles, etc. What would you do if a person was undergoing treatment for kidney damage? Or cancer? You’d ask them how they are or if they need anything.
In general, there isn’t much you can do for a person going through IF, but if they’re going through secondary IF, you can offer to watch their kids while they go for monitoring or appointments.
Laura: While trying to get pregnant, you must have seen your doctors quite a lot. If some of your friends and family are driving you batty, I can imagine that it would be easy to become quite attached to your physicians. Did that happen with you?
E.M.: I had a total transference crush on my RE. What can I say? In addition to being sympathetic, he was adorable. Our interactions were entirely above board. I just thought he was the cutest—and I wanted him to knock me up (with my husband’s sperm, of course). It was a distraction and it was totally compensatory. I think I also developed a crush on my handsome doctor so I wouldn’t have to deal with the sense of repeated violation from the dildo-cam (as I like to call it).
Laura: What are some of the alternative infertility methods that you’ve tried?
E.M.: I tried everything: Chinese herbs, Tibetan herbs, Chinese acupuncture, Japanese acupuncture, naturopaths, the Wurn technique (Clear Passages). If someone had told me that eating dung beetles would help, I’d have done it. All told, I think the acupuncture helped my general immune function. The worst thing I did was to trade fertility yoga for high impact exercise (often RE’s say one should stop high impact exercise; I took the proscription too seriously.) I stopped working out in the way that I had, got fat, and totally out of shape. Eventually, I threw my back out. I was doing the fertility yoga programs and I think that my body needed way more exercise than that—even just to cope with the stress. My advice is don’t give up the Stairmaster.
Laura: What are your biggest fears about taking traditional fertility drugs?
E.M.: Cancer. Specifically, breast cancer and ovarian cancer. I’m afraid that the drugs will mess me up so badly, I won’t be around for my kid. There’s a point at which you have to decide the extent to which you’re willing to gamble your own health. I developed a radial scar (a lesion of a papillary gland) in my breast and while it was benign, my breast surgeon said that she suspected the fertility drugs. I was lucky because I found it. Radial scars often turn into cancer. She said that while there are no studies, she sees a correlation in her own practice. Also, after I did the two cycles, I had terrible ovarian cysts. I almost lost an ovary it was so torqued by the cyst. So, despite what they tell you—there are risks.
Laura: Any final advice to women beginning infertility treatments?
E.M.: Yes: start applying for adoption while doing IF treatments if you think adoption might be for you. We are in an adoption process. We have an application in with the CCAA (China). We started the process after my two failed IVF cycles. We started January of 2006 and we probably won’t travel to China until March or April of 2008 if (and this is the big IF) the referral wait time holds steady. It’s been getting longer and longer. China has a good program but if you’re anxious to start your family, it’s definitely a long wait.