The Daily Weight of the Wait
“Infertility, for me, was a low level constant difficulty and stressor for years. And I don’t know that people not going through it could really relate to that. I think they could relate when there was a punctuated episode, like I had an appointment and found out some news that wasn’t positive, then people could understand I was going through something hard, but I don’t think people on the outside felt that daily weight and constant heaviness that I felt.”
Aaron and Reed met in their late twenties. They dated for a few years and knew they wanted to be together; however, each of them had different priorities for the future - Reed wanted to get married and Aaron was more focused on wanting to have children. They ended up getting engaged in the fall of 2012, and Aaron admits that she was ready to start trying to have a baby the day Reed proposed. At the time, Reed’s focus was on getting married, which they did the following year, and looking back, Aaron is glad they got married and sees it as a positive shift in their relationship. By the beginning of 2014 they had been married for a couple months and Reed was now on board with trying to start a family. Aaron was a couple years away from being 35 and was hopeful that they could have a baby before her 35th birthday, as this was a mental marker for her.
“By the time we started trying I had wanted to have kids for many years, there was a lot of anticipation built up.”
Aaron was raised in a close knit, natural, rural community. She was surrounded by strong, capable, independent women that seemed to conceive children without much difficulty. Her mother gave birth to her at home with the help of a local midwife, and she explained that this was the norm in their community throughout the seventies and eighties. She has many memories of her and her mom spending much of their time with other young moms and small children at the lake and had this baseline in her mind that she too would have kids earlier in life.
After the better part of a year trying without success, Aaron sought out some natural resources including a fertility yoga class, acupuncture, and mayan abdominal massage, and made some changes to her diet. She admits that some of these additions and alterations were difficult for her to fully embrace, explaining, “Part of the identity struggle I had was feeling like I’ve always been a healthy person, it’s always been a part of my lifestyle - I am active, I eat well, that’s what I enjoy doing.“ Aaron was hopeful that these changes would bring about a positive pregnancy test, but after a few more cycles without any luck, she went back to her OB, who recommended Aaron and Reed see a reproductive endocrinologist and referred them to a clinic.
Aaron had experienced irregular cycles throughout her life. She explained, “I was never somebody who checked my BBT (basal body temperature) or took ovulation tests long term because it was so frustrating. I tried that for awhile throughout the fertility process and I could never figure out when I was ovulating, my body temperature was all over the map, and my cycles were quite irregular - that was disempowering for me. I felt like everything was wrong and nothing was working. It was just exhausting, and in hindsight I can see how we wore ourselves down trying month after month. Knowing what I know now I probably would try to avoid all of that time of trying in the dark. By the time we got settled with the clinic we were really tired of everything we were doing.” However, Aaron admits, “I had some hang ups about a pregnancy with a lot of medical intervention. It was really hard for me to consider going to the fertility clinic.” After over a year of trying without a positive pregnancy test, Aaron and Reed decided to move forward with the fertility clinic and initial fertility testing. The testing revealed that Aaron had a septate uterus, a uterine anomaly when a septum divides part or all of the uterus into two quadrants, and that many of her blood work numbers were borderline.
“Our fertility tests came back and everything was borderline, and this has been the story of our whole fertility journey. There has never been any clear cause or obvious thing to work on. Everything has been incredibly borderline. There was never one thing to work on, it was always, well, it could be this, or it could be this, or it could be this.”
Shortly after they completed the fertility tests they found Aaron was pregnant naturally. Aaron recalls feeling “a sense of relief and surprise that I was finally pregnant.” They went into the OB for an early ultrasound, but it was so early that all they were able to see was a gestational sac. Aaron admits between the ultrasound, constant low level cramping, continual spotting, and uncertainty surrounding the uterine septate they were concerned about the future of the pregnancy and waited to see what was to come rather than celebrating. By the summer of 2015 Aaron’s body started to miscarry the pregnancy.
“Through this whole process when there was something for me to do or to rise to the occasion, I could always pull myself together and do that. It was the continual low level uncertainty that was really difficult for me. Going through the actual process of having a miscarriage and dealing with the aftermath was something for me to put my energy into that was more helpful than the constant uncertainty of infertility.”
During this time Aaron worked at a local co-op sourcing their products. Between the lack of backup support in small co-op setting and the basic medical insurance, which didn’t include any infertility coverage, Aaron decided to look at new job opportunities following the infertility bills, her miscarriage and the potential cost associated with a future septate removal surgery. Aaron explained that searching for a new job with infertility coverage was difficult because potential employees don’t have access to coverage specifics until they accept or begin a new position. By late 2015 she had found a new job in sustainable agriculture at a state university, and they were relieved to find Aaron’s medical coverage was much more extensive and included some infertility coverage.
While they were going through their miscarriage and Aaron’s job transition, the fertility clinic they had done their infertility testing through closed. Aaron was in search of a new clinic and doctor that could assist them with all of their fertility needs - including performing highly monitored infertility procedures as well as uterine surgery, if a septum removal surgery was necessary. The search, medical record transfer, and waiting list for a new doctor was a long and arduous process. Aaron recalls the internal struggle she had during this time as they continued trying to conceive, explaining “It was difficult to trust my body as time went on. It all got so muddled together - the wanting to get pregnant and the hoping and the feeling like I might be - it was really hard to separate.”
By the spring of 2016, over two years after they starting trying to conceive, Aaron and Reed finally met with their new doctor. They were hopeful that they could start IUI (intrauterine insemination) immediately with the clinic, and their doctor said IUI would be a good next step for them after performing a septum removal surgery. The doctor explained that the septum removal surgery would aid in achieving and maintaining a pregnancy, but the downside is that the uterus should have about 6 months to heal following the surgery. Although Aaron and Reed agreed with the recommendation they couldn’t help but feel like the plan was pulling their timeline backwards.
“I remember leaving that appointment and feeling so confident in our doctor - she was so straightforward and we felt like for the first time in years we had a plan of attack and we were going to move forward with it.”
They scheduled the septum removal surgery for a few days before Memorial Day weekend so Aaron would have some extra time to recover before returning to work. Their doctor said the surgery went well and the clinic would be able to further validate this via ultrasound once Aaron’s period returned. Following the surgery Aaron spotted on and off throughout the summer and continued to wait for her period to arrive so she could schedule the post operation ultrasound.
The clinic checked in with Aaron every couple weeks, and eventually recommended and prescribed a medication to initiatie Aaron’s period since it’s arrival was so delayed. Aaron reflected, “For some reason I just didn’t want to take the medication. I decided, ok, tomorrow I’m going to take it to initiate my period. I got up in the morning, had the medication on the counter, opened the bottle and then I had this flash in my mind and thought, well what if I’m pregnant? So I closed the bottle, didn’t take the medication and the whole day I thought, that is so silly, you have hoped and thought you were pregnant so many times. I was so mad at myself to even have that hope after the surgery because I thought it was so unlikely that I might be pregnant. But still, I picked up a pregnancy test on the way home from work, I used cash so it wouldn’t show up on our bank statement for Reed to see because I was so embarrassed and mad at myself for allowing myself to hope that I might be pregnant. I got home with the pregnancy test, made up some errand that I wanted Reed to run so he would leave, and it turned out to be a positive pregnancy test. That’s why my period hadn't come after the surgery and that’s our pregnancy with our daughter.”
Aaron said she never embraced her pregnancy as normal because she was anxious that she didn’t have the post operation ultrasound to confirm the septate surgery had gone smoothly. Yet, their pregnancy progressed smoothly and in April of 2017 they welcomed their daughter Juniper Irene into the world. Aaron said historically Reed had been the primary worrier in their relationship, but explained “Reed really stepped up and was stable and helpful throughout our fertility journey. He was a really solid partner the whole time.”
“Thinking back, the whole fertility journey really peeled away a lot of layers of expectations that I didn’t even know were there. To not be able to get pregnant caused me to question my identity in terms of having a strong body, things working naturally, and being a capable woman. I thought of myself as someone who grits their teeth and fixes the problem - infertility was not a problem that I could fix right away.”