The Inadequate Conceptionby Lori Green LeRoy
I am the No Prego Pro, Infertility Warrior, Bunless Oven, Can’t-Make-a-Baby Veteran
If there was an advanced degree for infertility, I’d be a PhD. It’s taken more than six years and tens of thousands of dollars to achieve this distinction, and more specifically, 1,611 prenatal vitamins, 78 fertility drug injections, 55 ovulation detection tests, 40 blood draws, 33 ultrasounds, 16 pregnancy tests, and 11 embryos to confirm it. I mean, forget the popsicle sticks, I could build a model of Fort Sumter using negative pregnancy tests and ovulation test sticks that didn’t do their job.To make matters worse, I am a woman with a set of birthing hips proportionately larger than the rest of my body, and not one, but two uteruses. Seriously, I’m not kidding. I have a bicornuate uterus, which is basically one uterus split in two. So naturally, one would think that I have an ultra-reproductive capacity with my unusual anatomy, and that I’d be just like one of those medical marvel cases on Grey’s Anatomy, ER, or a soap opera where a woman becomes pregnant with sextuplets sans fertility drugs.In all seriousness, I always thought that God had blessed me with more than enough of the proper equipment to get pregnant at the drop of a hat - or by simply forgetting a condom or a birth control pill. And as a result of what I thought would be hyper-fertility, I sweated over getting pregnant at the “wrong” time for years. As many couples can relate, you remember the times in your life when you really didn’t want to get pregnant, especially before you were married. I recall a couple specific instances when I decided to “risk it just this once” (or twice or three times), and when I was late, I prayed to get my period and negotiated with God that I’d go to church every week if I could not be pregnant this one time. Little did I know…
My husband, Nick, and I joked about going back to my college dorm room or my first apartment and having sex there and all of the other places we did it before we were married as a way to invoke the fertility gods and assure conception (Mom and Dad, you didn’t read that part). Ours was the typical love story: Boy meets girl, boy woos girl, and they fall in love, get married, and buy a house with a white picket fence. Then there comes the part with the baby, but no stroller graced the driveway and no stork delivered any goods.We were always career-driven, and Nick and I really wanted to enjoy being married for a while before starting a family. We loved to travel around the world and we worked long and hard. He got his MBA; I trained for marathons. We even lived abroad for a year (not that these things can’t be done with children, they’re just a little easier without them). We had planned everything out pretty specifically. New Zealand trip, check; promotion, check; buy a house, check; save a little bit of a nest egg to build our nest for our eggs, check.
Still, one of the things that first drew me to Nick was the thought he’d be a great dad. And like so many other couples, when we decided the time was right, it really didn’t occur to us that we could be one of those “poor couples” who had challenges. Naturally, all of the women on both sides of my family, including my sister, pretty much got pregnant by looking at their husbands sideways, so I didn’t think anything of it. In fact, my mom was so hyper-fertile that she got pregnant with my sister with an intrauterine device in place and my mother-in-law got pregnant with my husband in a similar manner. I just thought Nick and I could decide that one day we’d snap our fingers, so to speak, and the next day I’d be pregnant. Now that we’re at six years and counting we’ve tried everything from the “natural” way to experimenting with old wives’ tales, taking fertility drugs, tracking my cycle with the precision of a military operation, and undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF). We’ve even used a gestational carrier, but she wasn’t able get pregnant, either. So, thus far, no stork has visited our house.
Going in to this whole ordeal, I thought my double uterus would also double my chances of getting pregnant - weren’t my odds twice as good as anyone else? It turns out that the “blessing” of two uteruses can actually make it more difficult. What if the egg from the left ovary goes into the left uterus, but the sperm goes to the right? After all, men are known to be lousy with directions, and my husband is no exception. As it turns out, 1 in 50,000 women in the U.S. have a bicornuate uterus and with odds like that, I’d have a better chance of winning the lottery than getting pregnant. But when you’ve got a nice set of birthing hips, a family history of easily getting pregnant, and more than ten years of practice to get there, it seems like it should have been a slam dunk. I guess I never imagined that the act of procreating another human being could be so difficult. After all, my mom and my high school health teacher scared me into thinking getting pregnant could happen from a handshake.
Unfortunately, I know that Nick and I are not alone as people with “single-line syndrome.” Every day thousands of women take home pregnancy tests and fail to see the positive blue lines. In fact, there are 7.3 million women between the ages of fifteen and forty-four who face some kind of fertility issue, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and these are just the gals in the U.S.There are plenty of women around the world in the same boat. And to make matters just a little worse, within our not-so-little subsection of being infertile, Nick and I are part of the 10 percent that make up the group of “unexplained infertile,” an elite group out of the vast 7.3 million who can’t get pregnant, yet there’s no medical reason preventing our eggs from meeting their mates. I'd much rather be an elite athlete or part of the elite wealthy, but instead I’m part of the infertility elite. Unfortunately in this group, we not only can’t get pregnant, we don’t get those cool black, no-limit credit cards, or any other perks of being part of an exclusive group.
While there can certainly be tears and frustration along the way to conceiving (or attempting to), not all stories are sad. One thing that I’ve discovered throughout this crazy ride is all of the ridiculous and hilarious situations that seem to just go with the territory. There can be plenty of funny incidents and awkward and absurd moments on the way to babydom, whether your trial in conception involves candlelight and Barry White or petri dishes and blastocytes. As you’ll read, you’ll find that Nick and I are more than forthcoming with our fertility woes and embarrassing moments. There are definitely parts that are in the category of TMI (too much information), and not everyone else is as willing to air their personal stories as we are, and frankly we don’t blame them. I’m sure at some point in the years to come, we may rethink our decision to be so open about our baby-making trials, but for now it makes sense to try to make the best of this often trying experience and share what I hope will make another couple’s journey (or memories of that time) a little more bearable. Then again, it could just be that perhaps the fertility drugs have affected my ability to think clearly. We’ll see.
I am not sad (though I definitely have my moments), but I do get frustrated and angry. What I have come to appreciate, through this challenge of mind and body, is humor - not only through things that I have experienced, but from my husband’s perspective, as well as friends and other people who took longer than they wanted to have a baby belly, too. We decided that writing and sharing the weird, embarrassing, yet very real and often comical moments would be cathartic. After all, if we can help one person who is pregnancy-challenged (or even those who aren’t) crack a smile or better yet, laugh, even for a moment, it’d be worth airing all of our fertility foibles.
This isn’t intended to be a clinical perspective. The stories that have found their way into these pages are all true life experiences, some are first-person accounts from me and Nick, and others are from brave souls who have dared to share their tales. Some names have been changed to protect those who are not so open about sharing personal information. These stories may not be medically accurate, and they may not even be good advice or something to try, but they’re all true, mostly funny, and chronicled in order to bring a smile to a face instead of dwelling on the challenges and heartbreak that so often accompanies great eggspectations and hopes of a baby-filled tummy.
As a special note, this is not intended to make fun of people who do have fertility challenges and have a very difficult time dealing with it, but as in many other tough situations that people go through, everyone has a different way of dealing with them. Sure, I’ve had my days of tears and wondering why it’s happening to me. But, I’ve also had my fair share of days diverting my eyes from the poor guys sitting in the waiting room at the lab, just waiting for their name to be called to make a “deposit”; counting the number of days in my last cycle while sitting in a meeting at work; wondering what kind of man has a competition with a friend over sperm count (turns out it’s the kind of man I married), and having hormone overloads that would make any of Tommy Lee or Kid Rock’s public outbursts or Mel Gibson’s phone tirades seem tame.
This is an excerpt from my book "The Inadequate Conception"...