Measuring the True Cost of Infertility
As a young adult, I lived in fear of pregnancy. In the small town where I'm from, enough girls became pregnant in high school that the saying "it’s in the water" wasn’t just a funny joke. Way before I became sexually active I knew having a baby young changed your life choices. I had ambitions. I wanted to go to college. I wanted to travel the world. I also believed I could have children later in life. My father had a friend who had a baby at 40. Her success left quite an impression on my twelve-year-old self. If she could do it, so could I.
My infertility journey began after a miscarriage in my late 30s. I took the loss hard but thought becoming pregnant again would be easy. When getting pregnant didn’t happen right away, I became obsessed. Each day that passed I became even more determined, yet alone. It seemed that everyone around me was darting down the path of parenthood without a glitch. When someone I knew became pregnant, I would casually ask how long it took to conceive. The answer was always, "we got pregnant on our first try." These conversations made me feel as if I was the only one deficient, old, and barren. I remember interviewing for a promotion at work and not getting the job. The co-worker who got the promotion was pregnant. The heaviness of failure consumed me.
One year after the miscarriage, I found myself in my doctor’s office. She explained that the tests indicated a low ovarian reserve — a fancy way of saying that the number of eggs left had diminished. She went on to say that due to my advanced maternal age (a term for anyone over 35) the remaining eggs might be at a lower quality. Having a baby wasn’t impossible, it was just highly unlikely. I was devastated.
The biggest toll of infertility is the silence
I couldn’t talk about my infertility. My struggle was somehow my fault and confiding in others would be highlighting my imperfection. Instead, I attended baby showers, lived through Facebook birth announcements and baby pictures, and listened to mothers complain about their children. All of it seemed unfair and hurtful. Every new baby born was a personal attack against me. It wasn't logical.
I even stopped talking to a good friend of mine when she became pregnant. Staying connected seemed too hard. I couldn’t even talk about my feelings of shame and frustration with my husband. He kept telling me to relax and be patient. His biological clock wasn’t ticking as hard as mine. Our different perspectives only further highlighted how alone I was.
Infertility is not only silent, it’s physically draining
Each month that passed, my obsession increased. I woke up early each morning and popped a basil thermometer in my mouth to check for ovulation. I rubbed progesterone on my wrists in the first half of my cycle to extend the luteal phase (giving the fertilized egg more time to plant itself in my uterus). I went to acupuncture three times a week to increase the quality of my eggs. I popped an organic, raw-food multi-vitamin that gave me heartburn. I decided to complete 30 days straight of Bikram yoga to cleanse my reproductive system.
I stopped sleeping. Once I was up for 36 hours straight. I saw a psychologist and a doctor to get a prescription for Ambien. I bought a juicer and grew wheat grass. The smell eventually made me gag every time I drank the green goo. There wasn’t anything I wasn’t willing to do or try in order to increase my fertility. I was physically drained, yet I couldn’t stop.
Infertility is also expensive
Most insurance policies don’t cover infertility. Not even diagnostic tests to determine the problem are covered, let alone a more costly procedure such as In Vitro Fertilization (IVF). Vitamins, supplements, and diagnostic tests add up fast. Once I learned that my problem was a low ovarian reserve, I knew that IVF was the best choice. I researched clinics in the San Diego area where I lived, and the minimum amount was 15 thousand dollars. The cost didn’t even include medication, which could be anywhere from three to six thousand dollars. On average the procedure is 20 to 30 thousand dollars.
The worst part is that there's no guarantee. For someone with my problem and age, I had about a 20 percent success rate. Flip that around and that’s an 80 percent chance of failure. Most people go through IVF multiple times before the procedure results in a live birth. I read stories of women getting second mortgages on their houses or borrowing thousands of dollars and being unsuccessful multiple times. Eventually, they had to come to terms with living in debt, childless.
Infertility causes you to lose spirit
I had this sense that whatever I was doing didn’t matter or wasn’t worth my time. I would be out with friends and the moment seemed lifeless and bland. I was stuck and couldn’t move forward. When I saw a mother with her child, tears would spring to my eyes. I would think why couldn’t I have a child? Why was something so easy for her, so hard for me? I began to lose my drive and my spirit, and I stopped making plans. The future looked bleak.
A good friend of mine told me about a friend who struggled with infertility. Her friend decided after many years of trying to live life childless. In this decision, she also promised herself that she would make it the best life possible; otherwise, the choice would be too hard. Her words stuck with me. Perhaps, the time had come to give up. I began the process of letting go of becoming a mother.
But something stopped me.
I stumbled across the book, “Inconceivable: A Woman's Triumph Over Despair and Statistics
” by Julia Indichova. It was being discussed in an online forum for infertility. I devoured the book. The author, like me, was older, had Czech roots, and had a low ovarian reserve. Her personal account of her infertility journey inspired me to look past the science and into my emotional blockage.
I began to practice visualizations like she did. I discovered that despite all my best efforts to conceive, a deeper part of me believed that I would never have a child. I thought I didn’t deserve a baby. I learned to break through this certainty through visualizations. I imagined myself holding a child to my chest. I imagined one beautiful egg dropping down and being fertilized. I watched myself stand in a river with all my fears washing through me.
I then started to sense a shift. I was sleeping better. I began to make plans. I researched IVF treatments in Tijuana, Mexico. Three months later I underwent the procedure. I decided that if this didn’t work, I would live my life childless. Not only childless but to the fullest.
I waited two weeks for the IVF results. When the call came, I had my husband answer because I couldn’t bear to hear the news. I watched his face for any sign of whether or not my life would include a child. No sign.
Then, he smiled.
I was pregnant. I couldn’t believe the results. Joy streamed through me. Nine months later I delivered a healthy baby boy.
Recently, a friend of mine struggling with infertility asked me for advice. My first thought was to say, "relax, it will happen." Then I remembered how advice like this would have brought me little comfort on my infertility journey. Instead, I told her to be patient, be kind to herself, and to confide in trusted friends.
What I didn’t say to her was that the scar of infertility, despite finally being a mother, is never quite forgotten. I look at those years as the dark years. The true cost of infertility can’t be measured.
But after the darkness has passed, when you hold your baby in your arms, the struggle is worth the pain. Perhaps, that’s what I should have said: The journey to your child is worth it. Don’t give up.