Our Baby Story: Learning From Five Years of Infertility
In the gray light of a dreary Tuesday morning, the city started to awaken.
Mothers stood in darkened kitchens, placing plastic-wrapped sandwiches into brown paper bags while children dressed themselves for school. Dads ensured backpacks were packed and umbrellas were ready by the door. Infants yelped for sleep-deprived parents. Dads changed diapers while moms warmed bottles. Teenagers hit the snooze button for a third time while preschoolers watched cartoons and ate buttered toast on TV trays. Hugs and kisses were exchanged. Temperatures were taken. Buses were caught. Ties were straightened. Everywhere across the city, families greeted the new day with a frenzy of activity.
Everywhere, that is, except for one place.
In the quiet darkness of the hospital room, the monotonous beeping of the heart monitor kept time.
The silent dripping of the fluid bags delivered medication. The constant puffing of the leg cuffs kept leg veins circulating.
This is where our attempts to start our family had led us.
After four years of wasted efforts and tearful nights, we had finally decided to take on in-vitro fertilization. The doctors had successfully taken more than 20 eggs from Cheri’s ovaries, but now she was suffering from ovarian hyperstimulation. Her abdomen filled with fluid that needed to be drained with a siphon, while the rest of her body ached from dehydration.
It was there in that hospital room that we finally came to realize and accept a few things about this whole baby-making thing.
We Were Not Alone That Day
Although we spent the early months of our infertility journey in isolation and Cheri’s complications were extraordinary, we were hardly alone. In fact, once we started looking for others in the same boat, we realized that we did not need to look far.
Two years after we began our journey, we sat in a conference room at Penn Valley Community College with 200 other people. They were there for the second annual Family Planning Conference, put on by the Kansas City Infertility Awareness Foundation. The foundation has since grown beyond that single annual event and touches hundreds of couples, just in the Kansas City metro, who believe they are suffering alone.
Even in that lonely hospital room, we knew that we were not alone, that we had not suffered the most or persevered the longest for our child.
Infertility Is Not a Woman’s Issue
Popular perceptions have almost always put the burden of fertility on women, and that has not changed for much of human history. Only in the 20th century was it even acknowledged that men could actually be infertile at all!
Contrary to all of this, infertility is not an issue for women to bear alone. Fertility or infertility does not speak to a woman’s value as a woman. It does not matter if the medical issue lies with the woman or the man. It is a human issue that husbands and wives bear together. It did not matter that it was Cheri lying in the hospital bed. Infertility was our burden to carry.
Life Is a Miracle
People say that babies are miracles, but perhaps we have become a bit flippant with that word “miracle.”
Infertility provided a wonderful, intimate window into just what it takes to make a miracle. We got a glimpse into just how much the odds are stacked against us, how many reasons there are for all of us to never have been born.
Along the way, none of our treatment, even the most invasive and expensive, ever supplanted the miraculous nature of life. Our treatment could only replicate what happens naturally inside the body. And none of it ever provided a guarantee. We could never make a sperm fertilize an egg. We could never force an embryo to grow. And we could not guarantee that a little embryo would implant in the uterus. And that is just the first few days of life!
The big moment was when we were given a photograph of our baby, just five days after he had been conceived through in-vitro fertilization. We knew that photo may be the only time we ever got to see our child, but we saw this thing that, for millions of years, had never been seen—human life at its most naked and vulnerable.
We Are Not in Control
Most of what defines “growing up” is a process of asserting more control over our lives and environments. From the time we first learn the word “no” as 2-year-olds, to making plans for college, careers and marriage, we come to believe that we are in charge of our destinies.
And then we made “plans” to have children. We felt that we were “prepared” and that sense of control was revealed to be an illusion. However, this was not an illusion we mourned. It was a fantastic revelation.
Yes, we even started to feel sorry for couples whose children came easily to them, who showed up as “planned.” But we suspected that if their idea of control over their lives was still intact, their children might have something to say about that in a year or two.
Our “Punishment” Becomes a Privilege
Five years after we decided we were “ready” to have a child, we finally received our son. But a funny thing had happened to us. We came to a place where we were okay with whatever outcome we would receive, because we could no longer imagine our marriage without this journey. Infertility had been a crisis that we had walked through together. Like many other life events, it revealed the hidden cracks in our relationship. Infertility invited us to work on strengthening the communication, the intimacy, the perseverance in our relationship.
There is nothing like a journey shared together to unite two people. When the journey becomes a struggle, the bond becomes stronger. And when the struggle becomes a crisis, it feels like the bonds can never be broken. The “punishment” of infertility became a privilege, a burden we knew most couples would not have, but we had been able to see through.
Matt and Cheri Appling are the authors of Plus or Minus: Keeping Your Life, Faith and Love Together Through Infertility, a collaboration between themselves and other Kansas City couples to bring encouragement to readers in a season of infertility or miscarriage. Plus or Minus, from Moody Publishers, is available on Amazon.com and other retailers.