Category Archives: Unexplained infertility

Looking back on a long journey

There is something special about February. It’s the month of love. It’s the month we first met on a dance floor in London 9 years ago in 2003. It’s the month we decided we wanted to start a family 3 years later in 2006. It was so special and romantic for us to make that decision then. Little did we know what kind of journey lay ahead and that wanting to have children is something completely different from actually being able to make it happen. Now, 6 years later, it’s February again and I have entered the realm of the 2nd trimester of my first pregnancy.

February now feels more magical than ever before. But it also makes me think back on all those years of living with unexplained infertility and going through fertility treatment. These 6 years have changed me and us forever. I can’t imagine myself and our life any other way. We have learned that life is unpredictable and beyond our control. We have learned that nothing can or should be taken for granted. We have learned that it is possible to be happy even when life is turning out so differently from what we had imagined. We have learned that resisting what is only creates more suffering. At the same time, we have also learned that there are subtle, but very important, differences between denial and acceptance. We have learned that there is a time to let go and rest, but that there is also a time to start fighting again. We have learned that living outside the social norm is difficult, especially when you have had no choice in the matter, but also liberating. It teaches you to find your own way and to make conscious choices about who you are and how you want to live within the limits of whatever life is handing you. It has make us stronger and closer as a couple.

To put it differently, we have learned that being involuntarily ‘stuck’ in a liminal life state like infertility for years is painful on many levels, but also transformational. Looking back on my posts prior to IVF and pregnancy, I did know this when we were still in the trenches (see for instance this post), but only tentatively. It is much easier to reflect on it now when I’m no longer in the same state. As I do so, I realize to my surprise that I don’t actually wish that these years had been any different or that we had been spared the long journey to get to this point. I also realize that the only reason I can feel and say this is because the liminal state of infertility has effectively ended for us. For now at least. Over the course of the first three month of pregnancy I have transitioned into a new state – that of pregnancy. We have not become parents yet, but for the first time ever we are actually on our way there. We can see the light at the end of tunnel. This last stage of the journey is significantly different from any of the stages that have come before because the creation of a new life is no longer theoretical and impossible. It is happening. A new life is coming into being slowly and steadily with every day that passes.

We resisted IVF for a long time, but in the end it was IVF that made the miracle possible. Yesterday we went for the NT scan* and got to see our little miracle dancing again. He/she was making it very difficult to get the measurements done because of all the moving around. As the technician was waiting patiently for the right position we had lots of time to enjoy the show and revel in the representation of our miracle on the screen. I’m still in awe. I still can’t quite grasp that it’s really happening, because it has seemed like a complete impossibility for so long. But I’m getting there slowly. More so now when the morning sickness has lessened because I’m functioning more normally again. We have not looked at baby stuff or anything like that yet, but a few days ago I started looking at websites of hospitals in London to try to get an idea of where to give birth since we are moving there. As I was watching a little video that took you on a tour of a birth center, tears started streaming down my face. It was hitting me. It’s happening, it’s real. I’m pregnant. We are going to have a baby.

*Update 16/2-2012: We received a letter two days after the scan with the assessment of the risk for Down’s Syndrome etc. based on the combination of blood results, NT measurement (1.1) and my age (37). The risk was assessed to be 1 in 11000, which is reassuringly low for my age. 

There is hope

The embryo transfer has been scheduled for tomorrow. Never had I imagined that that piece of news would make me so happy. And amazingly relieved. It means that it’s possible for my eggs and my husbands sperm to make new life together. Being diagnosed with unexplained infertility, and never having had the slightest indication of a pregnancy, this feels like a major milestone. We knew that there was always a chance that our problem could be to do with fertilization. But that’s not it! We were dancing around in the living room after the call – we have embryos!!! It means there is hope.

We won’t find out until tomorrow how many and how they have developed. All I know is that 8 eggs were retrieved on Friday and that there is as least one embryo to transfer tomorrow. At the moment that is all I need to know.

The quest for explanations and shooting in the dark

As we are waiting to get started with IVF, I often wonder if the process will reveal something about the cause(s) of our infertility. Sometimes the need for some kind of explanation is overwhelming. Falling into the ‘unexplained’ category comes with it’s own particular challenges, because it leaves a wide-open space for never-ending speculation and increased feelings of uncertainty. Somehow I hoped or expected that the medical profession could at least provide answers (if not solutions). Instead it turns out that fertility experts are themselves navigating a world characterized by uncertainty and incomplete knowledge. Visualizing technologies and other tools of investigation and diagnosis deliver ambiguous results and images. There seems to be few ‘facts’ which are not mediated by interpretation. Sometimes the experts disagree. Sometimes they just have no clue.

So I continue searching for possible explanations with potential solutions wherever I can find them. Both google and the people around me seem more than willing to help with suggestions… with everything from ‘you just need to relax’ to recommendations for supplements, vitamins and alternative treatments.

One such aspect is the idea that maybe, just maybe, the problem and corresponding solution is to be found in some other realm than the physical. Most of the time I resist such ideas, but at other times I have also given in and decided to try this or that or the other. Just because I did not want my own resistance to stand in the way of us having a baby. What if… what if…

The last thing I tried was a healer. She came recommended by a good friend who has been seeing her for years. She told me that she does not really believe in it, but this woman has nevertheless helped her with many things over the years. I decided to try it in connection with the last IUI cycle. I went for two sessions with the healer. In the first session she ‘diagnosed’ me with too much stress, tension and tiredness. Too much thinking and too little ‘now’ and ‘earth’. My chakras were too ‘busy’ for me to get pregnant. I needed to just sit and look at the water and meditate. ‘Live like a Buddha’ she said. She told me that what I do, is not good for me and I said ‘yes I know, I just stopped’. Good, she said. And then she also thought my energy was blocked because of my mother, actually it seems to go all the way back to my grandmother. I needed to let it all go and ‘break the chain’, as she put it. She was ‘reading’ all this in my energy field and emotional body. But there were also positives. I am healthy and there is nothing wrong with me physically as far as she could tell. I am a ‘free bird’, have a good body and good energy, as she put it.

I went home quite confused. I thought I cleared up that stuff with my mum years ago. And besides, who has not got some kind of issue at some point in their relationship with their mother? The stress – yes she is absolutely right about that. I have just taken the plunge and left my job a month ago. For sure it was not good for me in many ways, but was it making me infertile? There are a lot of claims out there about the link between stress and infertility, but I wonder how much is actually scientifically proven and to what an extent it is just a myth. After all, women get pregnant and have children all the time under circumstances which are bound to be much more stressful than my work situation ever was.

I was to come back for another session the day before the insemination. In that session she continued the ‘clearing out’ in my energy flow and calmed those chakras of mine. After doing whatever it is she does, she told me that now I was ready. The chakras were now vibrating as they should, there were no blockages in my energy flow and everything was good. So all sorted and ready to get pregnant! I felt good of course as I was riding home on my bike through the sun-bathed streets of Amsterdam. I still didn’t quite know what to make of it, but at least I had now done something. Something which I had initially resisted. I had acted on my decision to be willing to try (almost) anything – even if it did not quite make sense in the rational part of my brain.

The rest is history. I didn’t get pregnant in that IUI cycle either. It was another shot in the dark. Another part of the never-ending quest for explanations with corresponding solutions.

Tagged with Infertility

Just as this post carries the infertility tag, so have we, my husband and I, become tagged with infertility. It has become part of who we are; both as individuals and as a couple. The tag indicates that we have some kind of problem (or problems) which has the consequence that we are childless after trying to conceive for many years. In our case the nature of the problem is unknown. Our infertility is thus not (at least to our knowledge) a medical condition or an illness, but a state. Something we are, not something we have. The reproductive interventions we have tried (IUI), and are about to embark on (IVF), does not treat or cure our infertility nor does it solve our unknown problem(s). Fertility ‘treatment’ is rather an attempt at bypassing our infertility and thus hopefully helping us have a baby.

This experience of being infertile has slowly but surely become part of our identity. Acknowledging that fact is difficult and painful, as I was reminded after starting this blog on Saturday. I have only cried a few times throughout the last 5,5 year years of trying for a baby, but yesterday I cried. Really cried. The blog somehow made the reality of the tag more immediate, more concrete, more real. I just wanted to delete it! And forget that I ever even considered writing a blog reflecting on my experience of infertility and fertility treatment. I wanted to scream – ‘this is not me, this is not who I am’.

But it is! That is the reality. At different stages over the last 5,5 years, we have either focused on trying to conceive naturally, been in fertility treatment or tried to escape it all and focus on other things instead. The experience of being infertile however is always with us regardless of the different strategies we have employed to deal with it. And maybe it always will be. Even if/when we do have a child some day. My blog is still here because I have to accept the tag of infertility and try to get to grips with what it means for our life.

One of the aspects that comes to mind is an experience of loss of control combined with the feeling of being betrayed by our own bodies. Our bodies are in a sense denying us the possibility of choice and control. Something so central to most people’s identities in contemporary Western society, including myself and my husband. Not even an explanation are we granted, nor knowledge of problems to which their are solutions. Something which might have had the potential to restore some sense of control. Instead we live in a state of indeterminacy and unpredictability. Unable to affect our own destinies. Or so it feels, because not even advanced reproductive technologies has so far been able to provide any sense of control.

Another aspect of what it means to be infertile is the feeling of being trapped in a liminal life stage ‘betwixt and between’ the normal and recognised life stages. We belong neither with, for instance, the 30-somethings who are mostly single and still partying, nor with those who have children and have become families. We are in a very concrete sense prevented from moving along the culturally and socially excepted life-path. We have been prevented (so far) from becoming parents and becoming a family. An event which marks important changes in social roles, identity and relationships with others. We are getting older every day like everyone else, but we cannot move along in life and in time accordingly. You might say it is like living ‘on pause’ in a state of social non-belonging. Thus being infertile is a kind of non-identity as opposed to the identity of being a parent. A sense of not being a ‘real woman’ or a ‘real man’. And it carries with it a fundamental sense of social exclusion and maybe even a specific kind of meaninglessness. ‘Who’ and ‘what’ are we to become if not parents?

How it all began

It’s Saturday. I’m sitting here by the computer looking out on the canal from the window of our apartment in Amsterdam. The sun is shining inbetween the rain showers. The weather seems as erratic and changing as my emotions. I decided yesterday to start this blog about the experience of going through fertility treatment. Yesterday I got that phone call from the hospital again – you know the one where a sweet nurse tells you that the blood test was negative. I’m not pregnant. As usual…

We have been trying to have a baby for over 5 years now. Apart from all the ‘at home trying’, we have been through IUI six times. 3 years ago we went though three IUI attempts, then decided to stop fertility treatment. At that time we lived in Copenhagen and the hospital there suggested moving on with IVF. We didn’t want to, at least not then. It felt too drastic somehow. Especially since there seemed to be no clear indication as to the cause of our infertility. So we figured why not give nature another chance, we had after all only been trying for a baby for 2 years at that time. I was 34 then, there should be plenty of time. We made peace with the situation and moved on with life. Shortly after an opportunity came to move to Amsterdam. We took it. It felt like a relief, as if we could escape from the experience of infertility by embracing a new, exciting, expat life in another great European city.

But with time and distance came the thoughts. Should we have continued? Did we make the wrong decision? The dream of having a baby and becoming a family was still there. Eventually we decided to try fertility treatment again since nothing has happened naturally in the mean time. So now we have just been through another three IUI cycles. The hospital here in Amsterdam insisted on trying IUI again, even though we had already tried it before. Again it has been to no prevail and again the doctors suggest IVF. This time we will do it. I’m 37 now and we are running out of time.

I’m starting this blog to make sense of my experience of infertility and fertility treatment and try to create a better understanding of what it means for us who go through it and our lives, bodies, relationships and identities. In the process I hope that lots of you, who are on the same journey, will also share your experiences and thoughts.