I distinctly remember that first time I took a pregnancy test. One month into marriage, I was so full of hope that we would have that honeymoon baby. I giggled as I envisioned a tiny version of my husband, Dan, and me in nine months. We were so in love, it only seemed natural that a baby would be the next step. Everyone else seemed to get pregnant when they wanted, so why not hope for us?
Ouch. Well, there was always next month. Little did I know that would be the first of countless negative tests for the next several years. My husband was relieved to have another month to adjust to our new life together with just the two of us, but I had a nagging feeling that we would have a long road ahead. Yet I was used to meeting all my goals if I worked hard enough. So, as time passed, I took infertility as a challenge.
Our challenge with infertility dramatized our differences.
The months went by. The longing for a child grew more intense. That first Christmas was hard. Mother’s Day was even harder. My arms and heart ached. I longed to smell sweet baby hair, hear happy coos, to sing and rock our sweet little one to sleep. I felt like a failure to myself and my husband. “It will happen when it’s meant to," Dan reminded me each month. As well-meaning as his patience was, his demeanor boiled my blood.
That first year had gone by. I wanted to just be a happy newlywed, but I was meeting constant failure for the first time in my life, and I wasn’t sure how to handle it. It wasn’t long before this turned into battling depression over this grief I had yet to fully process.
So, I decided to take it up with my doctor. I was taken aback by the matter-of-fact attitude. No words to comfort my stifled sorrow, no resource suggested for counseling. I wasn’t even asked if I was okay. I was told that my husband needed to produce a sample and was sent home with a specimen cup. I brought it to Dan and felt so vulnerable I just sobbed. We never took that first test and it was another year before we gathered the courage to see a different doctor.
I tried to hide my true feelings from Dan. I didn’t want him to see how much I was suffering because I didn’t want to send the message that he wasn’t enough for me. I tried to hide the negative tests, but he always seemed to find out that I had taken one. Each time he would gently comfort me and remind me that our time would come some day, but each month I felt even more of me die inside.
I no longer wanted to spend time with my friends and family, as many were married and already had children. I felt sidelined while listening to the many comparisons of births and babies. I didn’t even want to go to church on Mother’s Day because all the lucky women were called forward and applauded while I remained seated, broken and rejected. I was full of anger and could not understand why women who didn’t want children would easily getting pregnant, but I couldn’t have the child I so longed for.
I often times took it out on Dan. I would yell at God and then fall to the ground in a fit of tears. It was hard on my husband. He wished for a child, but even more, he wished he could have his happy wife back.
It became exhausting.
By the second year, we were pulling out all the stops. So many doctor appointments. All the specialists were at least an hour drive away, the farthest was four hours. Test after test, charting, a litany of medications, a strict diet and exercise regimes, daily ultrasounds—it wasn’t long before I felt like a pincushion. PCOS, low endorphin syndrome, endometriosis, low progesterone and estrogen, poor mucus quality, a tilted uterus. All these combined with Dan’s low counts and low testosterone made for a very low probability of conception. We tried praying all the recommended prayers, considered some medical interventions, homeopathic remedies, physical therapy, chiropractic, and all the foods and supplements that promised to work magic.
Even our marital intimacy was taken over by a schedule of when to do the deed per doctor’s orders—lessening the romance and increasing the stress. The physical, emotional, and financial burden of this certainly took its toll on us.
Through all of this though, my husband remained calm—but instead of taking comfort in this, it only frustrated me that the situation didn’t bother him more. At the same time, it frustrated him that it bothered me so much. He was never big on sharing his feelings, and was content with our lives, as they were. Even now, it's still very difficult to talk about it together to this day without bringing up very raw emotions. He always reminded me that his main goal was to be married, having children would be icing on the cake. Having such contrasting viewpoints was becoming a challenge.
It was no help that my body went through a physical reminder of infertility each month, with pain, nausea, blood, major hormonal shifts, and a feeling of emptiness. I felt alone.
It challenged us to turn toward each other.
Even though this was often painful to discuss, we finally overcame these challenges by practicing empathy and intentionality in our marriage. I needed validation that my grief was justified. He needed validation that he was enough for me. After some time, and some open dialogue, we took action to support each other by going to each other’s doctor appointments and being there for each other during the countless lab draws, ultrasounds, and even surgery. He would even fight with the insurance company to cover whatever the next medication would be because I was losing momentum.
Amidst all of this pain and heartache though, I think one of the most important things we did was to keep on living. Every day we committed to turning toward one another, putting in that extra effort to prioritize our relationship and our romance. We took those vacations. We made time for date nights. Sometimes, it felt as though we were running a marathon together. Occasionally, one of us would want to give up, but the other was always there to move us both forward.
If I were to give advice to my newlywed self, I would have probably told myself the same thing my husband always tried to communicate: “Breathe. Enjoy life. Don’t fret. It’s beautiful to be a family of two."
Yet, if I’m being honest, that wasn’t what I wanted to hear at the time. It really was hard. I had to identify my expectations and grieve them and find joy in our relationship and life together as it was. So for other couples who are struggling with infertility or any major hardship life throws at you, my thoughts? Lean on each other. Listen, without offering advice. Verbalize validation of feelings. Make time for fun. Seek out people who are also struggling with infertility, and make friends.
Over the years we learned that expectations can rob us of our joy. As I slowly released the reins and took solace in prayer—praying mostly to find joy again—I found peace. My inner peace flowed into my marriage and brought healing to both of us. It was then that we were ready to start our adoption journey—a journey that has since been wholly rewarding.
We have been married for more than eight years. I have never had a positive pregnancy test. Yet, I am so grateful and proud to have shared this journey with a man who has stuck by my side, negative test after negative test, while always sustaining a positive outlook.