January – April 2008
From the beginning, I had mixed feelings about being in fertility treatment. Every time I went to the fertility clinic, I had to admit that I couldn’t get pregnant by myself. That this thing that I was so sure would be the easiest thing in the world was not, in fact, going to be easy at all. That I was unable to do on my own the one thing I’ve ever been totally sure I want to do.
But, like I was entering a 12-step program, I held a steady faith that all I had to do was admit my powerlessness, and magically everything would be ok. I was giving myself over the higher power of modern medicine.
In January, Sandy and I had our first appointment at the Fertility Centers of Illinois, where we went through another round of blood tests (all normal), another semen analysis (normal), and a variety of ultrasounds for me (normal). My original theory that they were going to take a look in there with their fancy machines and find the cause of all this trouble didn’t really pan out.
Like just about everyone in America struggling with infertility, my first step was a prescription for Clomid, a drug that encourages your ovaries to produce more and larger eggs. I didn’t exactly understand why I needed it, because I was pretty sure from my year of obsessive temperature charting that I was ovulating on my own. But that was my introduction to how fertility treatment is done when they can’t figure out what’s wrong with you: they just do a series of things, in a set order, and eventually one of them will probably work.
It wasn’t exactly the laser-like precision I’d been expecting, but I should have known better, after years of watching my father struggle with chronic illness. There are no simple answers, the doctors just have to try a lot of stuff, and a lot of it doesn’t work or makes things worse.
It was the making-things-worse part that totally threw me for a loop.
After the first month of using Clomid proved to be a bust, I headed in for a routine ultrasound to start a new cycle, and they discovered that there were leftover egg follicles all over my ovaries. It’s pretty typical with Clomid, which can easily overstimulate your ovaries. This was when I got introduced to the phrase “cancelling your cycle.” As in, “Oops, we kind of made everything worse! We’d better take a month off.” I felt like I’d been slapped. I had done everything I was supposed to do, and modern medicine had let me down.
Modern medicine also sometimes can’t get its shit together. The day after they cancelled my cycle, the doctor backtracked and decided we should go ahead and try Clomid again. It was a miscalculation. What Clomid is supposed to do is force your ovaries to produce one or two mature eggs. Instead, I over-reacted again, and made eight. That’s no good, because that turns your uterus into an octuplet factory. “We have to cancel your cycle after all,” a nurse told me. “Oh, and the doctor says you should use condoms for a few weeks, too.”
Sandy and I went back and forth on this for a night. Maybe we should just try anyway. What are the odds, really, that we’d get pregnant with a zillion babies? We’d had no luck with normal one-egg cycles. Maybe what we really needed was eight targets for Sandy to shoot at. But in the end we counseled ourselves to be patient. This wasn’t our month. We’d get it right next month.
Well, not exactly next month. When I went in for my next routine ultrasound, all those extra eggs had turned into cysts, and the doctor wanted to give them time to heal. Another cancelled cycle.
Three months of infertility treatment had provided us with no real information about why I couldn’t get pregnant and had actually caused brand new problems. But it was all we had, so, with the doctor’s assurances that moving on to the next step in their ordered sequence of treatments would be just the ticket, we forged ahead.
[Next: Part IV]