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Waiting is the hardest part

August 10, 2011

“Roundabout” by Amy Giacomelli

I’m beyond thrilled to have announced our pregnancy to everyone on Monday. It’s been a long road though, and one filled mostly with silence. I wanted to take this time to share our story and explain what we’ve been through because hopefully it can shed some light on what infertile couples go through and the real hurt that happens to so many people.

On the treadmill one early summer Saturday morning a couple of years ago, I was watching the beginning of “Father of the Bride Part 2.”

Do you remember that movie? The very first scene of the movie takes place in the Banks’ living room, and both Steve Martin and Diane Keaton (Annie’s parents) with Bryan Mackenzie’s parents are excitedly talking about what “news” they think Bryan and Annie are going to reveal. Everyone is in a tizzy (with bad acting) until Annie announces that they are pregnant. There are big shrieks and jumping, and hugs commence all around. Everyone is so excited to share this moment of the announcement. Annie isn’t even showing. It’s a sweet scene.

When we started trying to have a baby, George W. Bush was still our president. We had just bought our house. I had just started this blog. I expected the “Father of the Bride Part 2” scene to happen any minute. “Maybe at Christmas in our new house,” I thought.

But then, it took a few months, and another month, and it was starting to be obvious to me how long it was taking. This wasn’t happening like I’ve heard it was supposed to. Christmas passed. Our friends came to visit, and I remember even that weekend pouring my heart out to my friend Mary that I felt awful: something wasn’t going right. Why wasn’t I pregnant yet?

It wasn’t until after that time that my OB/GYN and I figured out that I had polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). It didn’t necessarily mean I had cysts on my ovaries… it meant that I wasn’t producing eggs to start the baby-making process. PCOS is very common in women. Some get it because they have problems with their thyroids or with their insulin production. I got it because I had too much testosterone. I was partially relieved to find out that I actually had something, but I was mostly really discouraged. What did this mean? My normal OB/GYN wasn’t really qualified to help, although she suggested I try one round of Clomid. If we couldn’t get pregnant on Clomid, then she’d refer me to a specialist.

Let me just say a couple things about Clomid… it’s the go-to drug for people who have problems conceiving. A woman takes it on days 3-7 or 5-9 of their cycle, and then it’s supposed to do its work in helping you produce an egg. One big snafu, it makes you into a complete beast. I was mean, quickly. I went from 0 to nuclear in a matter of seconds. It was very hard on JD when I took it.

I’ll get back to Clomid in a second, but let me just tell you… Clomid did work. I just didn’t know it. When we thought it hadn’t, JD and I were really bummed, we knew that an infertility specialist was next, and this was a frustrating time. I remember a somewhat tearful comfort-food lunch with JD at the Pancake Pantry on the day that we thought Clomid hadn’t worked. We treated ourselves to Nashville’s famous breakfast spot and decided from that day on that this process is not easy, but we were going to face all this together, along with our faith in God and that He had a plan for us.

We proceeded to meet with the infertility specialist who did some tests and said that once I got my period, we could start the process over again. Well, my period did come, but it didn’t stop, and we found out that I was pregnant.

For one day, JD and I were beyond excited. I even drove over to JD’s office in the early afternoon to tell him in person, and we were both just hugging and grinning from ear to ear. (And maybe crying a little.) We kept it to ourselves for that day because they still had some blood work left to get the results for, and I wanted to wait at least 24 hours before telling our parents. They calculated that I was about six weeks along. We even created a name for this baby… a pet name of sorts: Goober. We were so excited after being down about everything.

The next day, as it turns out, my hormone levels weren’t where they should be for a healthy pregnancy. I was losing the baby and no amount of progesterone in tablet form could make the baby succeed. I was just going to have to bleed until it was all over. I remember getting the phone call at my office. It was in October, right smack dab in the middle of the busiest season at work. I couldn’t really take off work. I just had to keep going with work (not because I was required to, but because it would’ve been very hard for me if I had rescheduled events… it wasn’t worth the time off). It was a rough couple of weeks. (There was even more couples crying.)

Just to be clear about some things: this wasn’t a tubal or ectopic pregnancy. This was just a plain ole miscarriage, which happens in almost a quarter of all known pregnancies. Miscarriage is very, very common.

JD and I were surrounded by extremely caring friends throughout this process. Friends who had been there, friends who loved us very much. I even went (while still miscarrying) to a baby shower for a close friend in Athens, and I remember her note to me afterwards was one of the most touching, meaningful letters I’d ever received. We did feel loved, even while feeling so empty.

By the start of 2010, we started working with the infertility specialist now that my body was ready to start again. The doctor wanted to continue to prescribe Clomid while doing artificial insemination (IUI’s), where they would take JD’s stuff and inject it into me on the perfect day. We tried Clomid for three months and, due to a snow day where we could not safely make it to the doctor, IUI’s for two months. This process — me having my hormones messed up and having to lay on a table while being poked and prodded, JD having to produce the stuff being poked and prodded into me — was very expensive and mentally taxing on both of us.

The continued use of Clomid was really harsh on me. I was a mess. And because Clomid has a half-life, remnants of the prescription were still in my system even during the next month when I’d take another round of the prescription. JD and I were having a really rough time just with each other because of my emotions. I was mean, tearful all the time, angry and just annoyed. What I thought were early pregnancy symptoms (crying at the drop of the hat and being irritable) were just the symptoms of Clomid staying in my system.

Finally, on the second month that we did the IUI, which was the third month in a row I had taken Clomid, we got a negative pregnancy test. On that same day, JD was laid off from his job. Wow, that was a terrible day. We knew we had to stop the infertility treatments because of money, and I was slightly relieved. Had we not been pregnant on the last and final month of an IUI, we would be facing the options of in vitro fertilization or adoption. In vitro was not an option for me… I just didn’t feel comfortable with the process or the cost.

JD and I took the summer of 2010 and regrouped. There was a lot on our plates… he didn’t have a job, I was finally getting all the Clomid out of my body, and it was a nice break from all the focused trying on making a kid. We were exhausted.

Yet, by now, I was fully bitter. Our close friends were getting pregnant with their first children. I couldn’t open Facebook without being crushed by another pregnancy announcement from both friends and random hometown acquaintances. These kind people were just living their life… they weren’t intentionally hurting me by expanding their family! It just felt like it. And it felt like everyone’s life was moving along and progressing… except ours was staying still. My emotions could go nowhere but negative, it seemed, and I would get so angry at people for being able to get pregnant so quickly, seemingly unaware of how completely blessed they are. “Did they not realize how easy it is for them?” I thought. “I bet they aren’t half as grateful as we would be if we got pregnant!”

And the thing is, we LOVE kids and LOVE spending time with our friends’ kids, being a part of their lives, praying for them, etc. It’s just hard every time you have to leave those kids with their parents and go home to the empty 2800-square-foot house you bought in order for your family to be able to “grow” into.

On top of the personal pain I was struggling with, I was crushed by some of the things people would say insensitively about the subject. I completely understand that people mean well, and that this is a very tough time period for small talk. I also know now that this is ignorance more than anything: people don’t realize how tough it is for some people to get pregnant. But here are some of the examples over the past three years:

“Maybe you’ll get pregnant before [insert random pregnant lady] has her baby?” What? I don’t even understand why that matters.

For people who didn’t know our struggles who ask, “You don’t have kids yet? What are you guys waiting for?” Are you kidding me? As if this is in our control!

“Sorry about your recent miscarriage. At least it’s not as bad as our situation.” How is that possibly comforting?

“Oh, you’re having trouble? My sister had trouble too, but she tried [insert any random method here] and now she has four kids! Have you tried that?” There’s no right answer to that question.

And, the very common, “I’m sure you’ll get pregnant as soon as you adopt; it always happens that way.” No, it most certainly does not always happen that way…

Here’s what you do say to your friends and family who are struggling with infertility, especially after a miscarriage: “I love you. I am here for you always if you ever want to talk and I am happy just listening to you vent. I will pray for you. Here’s a meal I made for you.” (That last part is not necessary, but that would be nice! hehe)

Most of last summer was spent coming to grips with our emotions and our situation. When we were working toward an IUI or taking medicine, there was at least an end point in sight. But, we were taking a break, and my focus unintentionally became this empty feeling of our failure to make babies.

Our awesome church (shout-out to Nashville’s Covenant Presbyterian!) was very supportive during this process. Every couple of months, JD met with one of our pastors who wanted to know how we were doing and to talk through some of the feelings we were experiencing. We were both active in single-sex groups with men/women of different ages who could advise, encourage, and pray for us, too. We felt loved, prayed for, cared for, and important, even though we weren’t parents.

I remember meeting with some ladies in early spring about a new project I am working on with the church, and I walked out of the coffee shop with one of the committee chairs, Barbara. It was raining, and we shared an umbrella and she asked me about JD and what he did. I don’t even remember how it happened, but I mentioned that we were having a hard time getting pregnant. She stopped, right there in the middle of the sidewalk in Hillsboro Village, turned to me with tears in her eyes, and said, “I know you are in pain. I too empathize with your pain. I struggled for years to have babies the doctors believed would never come. Now, by God’s faithfulness, I have two. God has the best plan. I will pray for you and this very difficult season.” And she hugged me for a long time. I still can’t think of that moment without choking up.

This is all a critical part of our story because I continued to be angry, bitter and very sad about my situation, despite how caring people were. In the back of my mind, I knew strongly that God would take care of me, that my miscarried baby is in heaven, and that I shouldn’t complain about the life I was blessed to have. But I continued to struggle with this. It was not an easy road. Some days I was so destitute and selfish and a jerk. I was being shaped by God in so many ways, but it wasn’t always clear to me and my faith wasn’t always strong. (JD was, of course, struggling with many similar thoughts and feelings, but I’m not going to try to articulate what was/is in his head, and besides, this isn’t his blog!)

Back to the timeline…. in late summer 2010, we talked to two sets of very close friends who had adopted their first sons. They too had problems with infertility, and it was amazing just talking to folks who have had the same hurt that we did. One couple consisted of friends of ours from college and had adopted internationally; the other, of members of our church and had adopted domestically. Both couples are strong Christians, the kind of friends you thank God you have and you pray God will make you more like. They were able to really help us work through our feelings and encourage us to look into adoption. We were very excited about the prospect of adoption but just always assumed we would wait to do it after we were done having biological kids. So we continued with the application process only to get fairly far and then be asked to wait until JD got a job. Our debt-to-income ratio was not in a healthy range despite our nest egg that we had. Another frustrating blow in our hope for progress to be parents. (We still want to adopt when our financial situation betters, but we are on hold for a while.)

So, where did that leave us? We were kind of at a dead end. So I started reading. I picked up a couple of books specifically about PCOS and the best diet for treating symptoms. I spent most of last summer changing my food habits and exercising more. And I felt amazing. I had lost about 10 pounds, I had tons of energy, and I was more confident than ever about my body. I had learned what my body needed, and it responded. I also started getting my periods regularly, which had never happened since we started trying to have kids. But, it still wasn’t enough to get pregnant. Meanwhile, many of the friends and acquaintances who’d had their first babies with ease were starting to announce their second round of pregnancies…more mixed-emotional fun.

In the spring, another close friend who also has had infertility struggles and PCOS talked to me about this new doctor at Vanderbilt that she was starting to go to. He had enlisted her in a clinical trial and had taught her some interesting things about artificial hormones and other environmental factors that influence infertility. I had learned some of this in my PCOS reading, but she really trusted this doctor and what he was telling her. I thought, why not? I could try a visit with him, see what he thinks of my situation, and maybe he’d also put me in the clinical trial (which would be free). We could afford a copay or two, right?

I scheduled an appointment with Dr. Lucas at Vanderbilt in early May. He listened very intently to my situation and was thrilled that I had been getting into shape and that I was more regular now because of my eating and exercise regimen.

After I told my story, he said, “OK, we have two options: One, we can do several tests, which will be time-consuming and probably pricey, and then afterwards, I’ll give you this medicine I want you to try. Or, option two, we just give you this medicine before testing and see if it works. If it doesn’t, we can start the testing afterward.”

I was all for option two. He asked what day of my cycle I was on. “Five,” I said.

“That’s the first day that you need to take this medicine [for the next five days]. Here’s the prescription. Get it filled today.”

The medicine he prescribed is a breast cancer medicine, Femara. It has apparently been found to increase fertility in ~40% of women studied, and it doesn’t have the side effects/emotional mess aspect of Clomid. Plus, it doesn’t have Clomid’s half-life, so it wouldn’t stay in me, messing with me for so long. Just like other medicines have positive side effects (birth control helps with acne, etc.), Femara helps with infertility.

I started to feel pregnancy symptoms, but this was nothing new to me and especially not to JD. The past three years have been full of phantom symptoms that were my mind playing tricks on me. Because I wanted something so badly, I would read any little bump or hiccup as a sign that I was expecting. Of course I would share this with JD, and he would get his hopes up, only for both of us to be distraught when the test came back negative. This happened A LOT and was a large part of the mentally taxing aspect of the infertility process. Managing our hopes and expectations around how I felt was making us both mad (and mad at each other!).

So imagine the surprise between us when, a month later, the pregnancy test was positive. I couldn’t believe it when I saw it, and I made JD read the instructions to the test after it showed up positive. (JD hadn’t even bothered to wake up with me this time, because he was so sure it was just the phantom symptoms again.) Why would this test be positive when the 30 others before it weren’t? It was surreal. It had actually happened.

JD and I never stopped being cautious that this pregnancy wouldn’t make it past the first trimester. A miscarriage had happened before and could happen again, even late in the first three months. We were so worried to tell people or get our hopes up again. We didn’t want to be crushed another time, and we didn’t want to tell a bunch of people good news and have to tell all those people bad news, if we lost another baby.

But, some indigestion and one particularly graphic nighttime “morning sickness” later, I’m here at 13 weeks, out of the danger zone (statistically) for miscarriage. Yes, we’re elated, but we know that the story isn’t over. There are no guarantees that this baby will make it past birth, past its first few months, past Kindergarten. Lots of bad things could still happen, even as “out-of-the-woods” as we are. We’re trying to learn contentment with where we are – with where God has purposefully placed us – and while we pray that we’d be content with whatever happens, we’re also praying that “where we are” in 27 weeks is with a healthy baby.

I’m not sure even how to close this epic story, but thank you for letting me share it with you. We can’t wait to see what lies ahead for us… three!

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17 Comments leave one →
  1. megstermeter permalink
    August 10, 2011 11:29 am

    I am SO GLAD you’ve shared this story! I know people my age on both ends – who have had no trouble at all and don’t realize how lucky they are, and who want a baby badly but either the timing is not right or it’s just simply not working. This is such an encouraging story!! Love you dearly.

  2. Kim permalink
    August 10, 2011 11:32 am

    What a moving story, Kate. You and JD have been so long in our prayers that it gives all of us a sense of relief that they may have paid off. Your blog today should be shared with women everywhere, not only those who suffer the infertility battle, but those who are unsure of an appropriate response to someone else’s misfortune, any misfortune, not just infertility. People can be unknowingly insensitive. I know that first hand as so many times I open my mouth just to change feet. But remember, they are just not as compassionately articulate as your friend, Barbara. Many people just do not know what to say but care regardless. Much Much love and hugs. Momma

  3. Stu permalink
    August 10, 2011 11:51 am

    I like you.

  4. August 10, 2011 2:45 pm

    Kate – thanks for sharing your journey so far. I’m still tearing up thinking about how the Lord has carried you through this far and will continue to do so. You are right that there are no guarantees. Even though I was blessed with two relatively easy pregnancies, I struggled with fears over losing a baby. Even with two healthy children, I am constantly reminded that I cannot fully protect them. It is the Lord alone who gives and sustains life, and I am thankful that He is a good Father and we can trust Him, no matter what. I am learning that living and loving in a fallen world means walking through suffering and pain. It stirs my longing for heaven and teaches me more about my Father’s heart… I am rambling, but I just wanted to say that I am thankful for the example of faith in your story, rejoice with you in this gift of pregnancy, and pray for a healthy birth come February! :)

  5. Annette Stuart permalink
    August 10, 2011 3:27 pm

    I love y’all three! ~MamaStu

  6. Hunter Perrin permalink
    August 11, 2011 9:08 pm

    Kate- After reading that you give Whitney and I hope. You did such a wonderful job of describing emotions that only someone going through this can understand. Thank you and all of our prayers for you three. Hunter

  7. Melissa Robbins Cefalu permalink
    August 12, 2011 8:49 am

    Girl, you are aweseome! As I was reading your entry I was reminded of our 4+ years struggling to get pregnant. Thankfully, 5 rounds of Clomid worked for us! Oh – the joys of Clomid. I was teaching high school chemistry at the time, the hot flashes were horrible – and the emotional rollercoaster, the poking and prodding… I also took progesterone for the first trimester of my pregnancy with Cali – the memories! Congratulations to you both – I wish you the best of luck – enjoy the ride:)

  8. August 12, 2011 9:08 am

    Kate — Your story will be encouraging to so many women — it’s so wonderful for you to share this. I had four miscarriages — including my very first pregnancy — and three more trying for #4 (2 required a D&C, one of which didn’t work so I had to be given a massive dose of methotrexate to induce miscarriage after suffering through the D&C — that one led to borderline clinical depression in me). That’s how we ended up adopting our 4th. I also had to “work” at my fertility using Clomid and ovulation kits out the wazoo. One year, Jed and I tried every other day for an entire year! :-) True story. And, I did get pregnant and lost it. Point being –it’s so much harder than people see on the outside. I’m so happy for you and know your story will resonate with so many young women facing infertility.

  9. cathy welles permalink
    August 12, 2011 4:02 pm

    The best part of this is that you & JD are doing this together!! Crises are always hard & usually unfair but if you stick with it together you can make the process a little easier! I can just imagine what great parents are waiting for your baby…not to mention grandparents!! Love to you both & baby!!!

  10. janie permalink
    August 30, 2011 6:50 pm

    Finally having a chance (and brain power) to read your story…amazing !!!! You all have been through so much, we only knew the tip of the iceberg. Sooooohappy for you ….will try to call soon ! love you all three..Janie

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