I was never a fan of problem solving questions in school. I preferred computations or plugging in formulas in Algebra. Essentially, I liked my math questions simple and straightforward. Here is the question, and these are the tools you need to get to your answer.
Who knew I would be faced with a very big problem, many years later that I couldn’t figure out and for a long time, neither could my doctors?
At the ages of 31and 32, after trying to have a baby on our own for one year, my husband and I were diagnosed with unexplained infertility. The tests we underwent which led to this diagnosis all came back normal. Every single one.
At the beginning, having nothing to fix was encouraging.
“Achieving pregnancy is a numbers game”, one of our first doctors told us, but he added some reinforcements to help us along. Oral medications followed by timed intercourse, then higher doses of drugs and intrauterine insemination. Ultimately, IVF is the last and most successful treatment for unexplained infertility as it allows the best opportunity to control the variables interfering with pregnancy.
But despite these treatments and what seemed like a clean bill of reproductive health, pregnancy was not happening. Infertility is infertility, explained or not, but a problem with no solution defies logic and the diagnosis begins to wreak havoc on your psyche.
Some of the people you meet in the clinic waiting room begin to get their coveted positive pregnancy test.
Women with infrequent ovulation take drugs like Clomid or Femara and eventually become pregnant. Certain types of male factor infertility are treated with surgery or ICSI (Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection). Fibroid tumours are removed, heart-shaped (bicornuate) uteruses are surgically corrected. As these couples graduate from the clinic, you feel a very real, albeit irrational sense of being abandoned by your infertility brothers and sisters. Now you actually begin longing for a problem to fix and your doctor must become a sleuth of sorts.
One doctor put me on a drug used to treat Type 2 Diabetes as well as women with PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome) .
“But I don’t have either” I told him.
“It can’t hurt,” he told me, rocking back and forth on his swivel chair.
Another one advised me to have a procedure to remove previously undetected uterine polyps.
“So is that the cause?” I asked hopeful. “Probably not,” he answered. “Many women have them without realizing it but… it wouldn’t hurt.”
But it did hurt.
It hurt a lot to try everything and have nothing work and as nothing continues to work, months turns into years. You begin to inch closer to and even surpass the “dreaded 35” knowing full well that a woman’s age has a direct correlation to her fertility. At some point, you must decide to either stop treatments, look into non-genetic parenthood, or keep going— difficult decisions with no easy answers.
Continuing to try has its own price. You become bound and tethered to your monthly cycle and treatment regimen. A trip in the Spring? … forget it, you might be undergoing a procedure then. A new outfit for an event months down the road? You put it back on the rack because you might be pregnant by then and the dress won’t fit. Your life is no longer your own and over time with no success you grow bitter and resentful. And for some couples the financial cost is just too high. With an average IVF cycle costing around 12,000 dollars, for many couples, the procedure signals the end of the road.
Despite all the uncertainty, there were moments of brightness and clarity. For one, the diagnosis opened me up to trying alternative treatments like acupuncture, yoga, naturopathic medicine, and hypnotherapy. These therapies introduced me to compassionate professionals who taught me the importance of self-care and nurturing not just my body but my mind and spirit too. And as much as old friends leave the clinic, new ones walk through the door.
You talk, you commiserate, you hear about people trying different things and you begin to hope again.
There is still so much doctors and scientists don’t know about infertility and standard tests can only tell you so much. A problem with no known solution is infuriating, but it reinforces what we often don’t allow ourselves to think about — when it come to the big things in life like birth and death, we have no control.
On this journey I met and worked with the most amazing people, health-care professionals and patients alike. It is their faces that I think of when my kids open their presents on Christmas morning or blow out their birthday candles. Through all my efforts at problem solving, I developed an appreciation for not only my kids, but for all those who helped me get to them. A gratitude like that requires no explanation.
By Lori Sebastianutti