The Light at the End of the Tunnel

by Anna Koon from RESOLVE Spring 2009 Newsletter

On the wall by my desk is a painting my husband and I purchased two years ago. It is of a man and woman standing and staring expectantly out of the canvas. They stretch towards each other, but instead of grasping hands, their fingers brush the back of an empty chair that sits between them. The title of the painting is “Waiting.”

I don’t know what the artist had in mind, but for us the painting is about the excruciating experience of infertility. Waiting. Waiting to hear the rest results. Waiting to see if this cycle was successful. Waiting for that tiny heartbeat, that growing belly and finally that little one you’ve dreamed about for so long. And while you wait, the world goes on without you.

It’s hard to imagine when you’re in the midst of infertility that it will ever get any better, especially if your efforts never result in a successful pregnancy. I’m here to tell you that it does get better and it will. But first, a little bit of my story.

My husband and I wed when I was 30. I always assumed children were in my future. We decided that we would start trying in June 2003, and I told my ob-gyn and my primary care physician of our plans. They drew blood and advised me to start taking prenatal vitamins. I joined a gym so I could be in the best possible shape, and went off the pill and used condoms for three months as recommended.  We did everything “right.” So imagine our surprised when months passed with no success. I decided on practicality over panic, researching fertility online. We bought a couple of books on charting and started diligently taking my temperature and trying at the optimum times. Still nothing. We went in for preliminary tests and learned that we both had issues. But we were also assured we could get pregnant on our own, so we opted to carry on without assistance.

We tried to keep our heads up for another year, but by the end of 2005 we had hit rock bottom. Couples we knew were announcing their second pregnancies. 50 babies were born in the time we had tried for just one. We had retreated to our own corners, occasionally glaring at each other with accusation from our private wells of pain. We later learned that this was something many partners experience. There was no mutual support, no communication. At times it felt like we were living entirely separate lives. Friends and family tried to show concern but most often their attempts were callous and misguided.

We decided to seek help from a highly-recommended infertility clinic. We were pleasantly surprised by the genuine kindness we received. After more in-depth testing, we were told that in vitro fertilization (IVF) with intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) was our only options; we began to put everything in order to begin our first cycle.

In early 2006 we were waiting for insurance approval and ready to go. But instead or doctor called to tell me the process had to stop. The discovered I was in stage three of a precancerous condition, and my doctor had scheduled an appointment for me to meet with an oncologist. The ground fell out from underneath me.

I spent the rest of 2006 in treatment and recovery. I was a zombie, barely relating to my husband or anyone else. We were finally given the green light for our first IVF cycle at the end of the year. It was surprising how swiftly, and for the most part easily, the cycle passed, but then again just about anything would have been a breeze after cancer. Anxiously we waited for the results and were thrilled to hear that I was pregnant, though my hormone levels were low. My husband was worried, but I assured him that everything would be fine. After all we had been through, how could it not be?

After the follow-up test to see if my hormone levels had increased, I got a call that I was miscarrying. My husband and I held each other sobbing, while our dog curlced up around our feet, unsure of what else she could do to make things better.

The infertility clinic wanted us to start another cycle right away, but my husband and I were shell-shocked and hardly ready to risk another heartbreak so quickly. I told them we needed time to digest everything that had happened the previous year, the worst year of our lives. A year later we went back in to prepare for another cycle. We were hesitant, having debated over whether or not this made sense for us anymore. As we sat there with the doctor and he reviewed his strategy for our next IVF cycle, every fiber of my being was screaming “no.” It wasn’t until my husband and I sat at a coffee shop across the street that I found out that he felt the same way.

We never went back to finish our testing, but we didn’t throw out our IVF packet either. In fact, I found it the other day propped up by the stereo. I tried not to give it too much thought as I shredded the documents, and tossed them in the trash. I treated it as one would tear off a band-aid. After all, it is the end of a dream, though at this point it is a dream long tucked away.

These days I can handle sitting in cafes near mommy groups. I can be happy for my pregnant friends as their bellies grow rounder. I can play with my niece and nephew without any longing. I still have the list of baby names we had considered, but I’m comfortable with the fact that we’ll never get to use them.

Instead I’ve become happy with my family as it is: a dog who serves as an easy and loving child-substitute and a husband I’ve grown to adore all over again. We’re working together on developing a ministry at our church to offer support to those who are enduring infertility. Parents frequently confide that their envious of our life: the financial freedom, the unfettered schedules, the travel, the interesting hobbies.

And when I do get interrogated about why we don’t have children, I’m fine with saying “We can’t have any,” not because I want to elicit sympathy, but because I think the manicurist should think twice before asking such questions.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel, I promise you. I’ve been cancer-free for two years and I’m healthy, happy and complete. No, we’ll never have children, but we’ve learned our family is just right as it is.

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