“So how did it go?” my husband asked, pushing himself out of his seat as I approached. There was a slight ache in my abdomen, but I tried to walk with a steady, even stride as my shoes squeaked along the slick hospital floor.
I’d just gotten an HSG—a hysterosalpingogram—an x-ray procedure performed to determine whether the fallopian tubes are open, and to see if the shape of the uterine cavity is normal.
Lying back on a table, my feet in stirrups, and with an oversized paper towel covering my torso and upper body, iodine was squirted up through my cervix. The doctor had then rocked me back and forth, so as to spread the liquid evenly throughout my lady organs.
I was told I might experience mild cramping. In reality, it had been more painful than that, and I’d focused desperately on my breath for five, endless minutes, wishing for it to be over. Now I was wearing a maxi pad in my underpants, placed there to catch the ink that would spill out of me for the next several hours, much like menstrual blood.
At least it was over.
Still, I sighed. “Everything looks good,” I said. We wound our way toward the exit. I stared at the tiled floor as we walked, squinting my eyes as we finally pushed through the revolving doors and out into the sunlight.
“Well, that’s good,” he said. “Right?”
I was quiet for a few moments as we made our way to the car. I wasn’t sure how to answer. “Is it?” I finally asked.
Our first trip to the fertility center had occurred only several months before.
After one-and-a-half years of fruitless (and awkward) babymaking sex, we decided it was time to move forward with Plan B and seek out fertility testing. It was a big step. After all, not so long ago, we had been on the brink of separation, in part because of our frustrated efforts at procreation.
“I felt we were stuck,” Michael says about that period. “Initially we were all gung-ho and ready to go, and then months and months and months went by with nothing.”
Our trouble getting pregnant was one of many things we weren’t communicating about at the time. Instead, we each simmered in our own, separate pots of resentment and frustration. He began staying out late most nights, bar-hopping with co-workers, compounding the isolation I was experiencing as a work-at-home writer. When he finally came home at 2 or 3 in the morning, I cried silently in bed as we lay back to back.
Things came to a head when I finally confronted him with my unhappiness. When he responded by suggesting a trial separation, I was devastated. I countered with a plan that included improved communication, compromise, and therapy.
Obviously, we took a break from attempted babymaking.
Luckily, after only a few months of working together to save our marriage, our relationship was stronger than ever, and we decided we were ready to move forward.
This time, however, we decided to seek out some extra help.
On our first visit to the fertility center, I felt overwhelmed by the amount of information thrown at us.
Where previously we had been stuck in neutral, feeling new disappointment every time I got my period, it suddenly seemed we were hurdling forward at an incredible speed. Still, we felt reassured by how matter-of-fact our doctor was.
“You’re making the right move,” she said, after going over our medical history and asking us questions about our approach toward babymaking.
She then extolled the virtues of intrauterine insemination (IUI) and talked us through a four-page checklist of tests, medication classes, and procedures. She whisked me into another room for an ultrasound and shuttled us across the office to chat with the financial coordinator, then sent us out the door, slightly dazed.
In the coming months, I got blood work done three times. Michael got blood drawn, too. I got my HSG. Nothing popped. I should have been happy but, with each clean bill of health, I only felt more frustrated. I wanted a concrete explanation for why the past one and a half years of babymaking sex hadn’t yet yielded the expected baby.
Then our contact at the fertility center called with the results of Michael’s semen analysis. I was lying in bed with our three cats at the time, babbling at them, pretty certain by that point that they would be the only babies I’d ever have.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Michael pacing with the cordless phone, something he does when he’s anxious. His brow was furrowed. His voice was low. Finally, he joined me in the bedroom. He opened his mouth. He sighed. Eventually:
“They said my sperm count’s low. Really low,” he said. He was staring down at his hands, which were folded neatly in his lap. He seemed somewhat bewildered. “They want me to see a urologist.”
“I knew it!” my mother said when I told her. “It’s because he’s too skinny!”
“Mom!” I said, inappropriately amused.
Michael wasn’t taking it so lightly, understandably. He was nervous. He wondered what he had done wrong, whether he was completely infertile, whether or not he could fix this.
He worried that he wouldn’t be able to have kids.
I, meanwhile, was thrilled because—in the grand scheme of things, my mother told me—a low sperm count was an easy fix. Take sperm-boosting hormones and vitamins. Have sex. Have a baby.
Since then, we’ve had several appointments with the urologist (Name: Dr. Seaman. No joke.), and both of us are feeling more optimistic.
While the initial results of Michael’s semen analysis proved to be a fluke (hooray!), another test showed that he had an abnormally large amount of white blood cells mixed in with his little swimmers (boo!). He’s since been on a three-month regimen of three different medications and is slated to get re-tested next week.
I’m not sure what will happen after that.
I have my fingers crossed that we’ll be able to conceive naturally once the issue with the white blood cells has been resolved. But there’s still the chance we’ll have to move forward with IUI if no baby is forthcoming. And though this procedure is less invasive (and less expensive) than IVF, I’d be required to inject myself with hormones on a regular basis in order to release a greater number of fertile eggs.
That idea doesn’t thrill me, but, still, it seems worth it. After all, I’ve wanted to be a mother for almost as long as I’ve wanted to be a writer (27 years). And if it doesn’t take, we’re both willing to try IVF.
If neither IUI nor IVF works?
In my lowest moments—when I’ve ended up sobbing in bed because I could feel those tell-tale menstrual cramps and know I wasn’t pregnant… again—Michael has turned to me and said, “Worst case scenario? We adopt.”
I love this. I love that mindset. I love how he’s using my own words to school me. I’ve always been the risk-taker in our marriage. Whenever Michael has hesitated to make a change or try something that doesn’t have a built-in guarantee of success, I’ve asked him: What’s the worst that could happen? And couldn’t we survive that anyway?
In an ideal world, we’d conceive on our own. We’d have a child who carried parts of both of us (my book smarts and Michael’s metabolism, preferably). But in the grand scheme of things, adoption isn’t such a bad scenario. Adoption wouldn’t make either of us any less of a parent.
As we move past the testing phase, it feels good to be on the same page again. Instead of letting our babymaking difficulties drive us apart, we’re being proactive together. We’re acting as a team so we can move forward with our lives. No matter what happens now, I know we’ll be able to handle it.
No matter how it happens, someday we’ll be parents.