The Special Olympics of Conception

I’m still waiting for my voice to come back (literally) but, at least for the time being, my nose seems to have stopped emulating a faucet. I’ve spent so much time in bed or on the couch that, to my eye, there’s a cannon-ball-shaped indentation where I kept hurling myself into the same spot filled with cushy pillows, downy blankets and a big, warm bathrobe. When I’m sick, I crave the familiar – so, much like a nesting hen perhaps, I carve out a spot that’s just so and basically hibernate until I no longer expel ectoplasm.

I’d really rather read, but concentration hasn’t been on my side in the past week – so I resort to the lowest of entertainment to wile away my time until I can finally sleep for more than half an hour at a time without dripping. It seems that, lately, all I see on tv are reruns of once (and, apparently, still) popular shows that I vaguely remember at a time when my life was far more interesting than a dose of channel-surfing to distract me.

Remember that episode of Sex in the City where Miranda gets pregnant from a single, solitary mercy f***? Rather apropos, she laments the likelihood about a single instance of unprotected sex between a woman with a lazy ovary and a man missing a gonad leading to pregnancy:

“He has one ball, and I have a lazy ovary! In what twisted world does that create a baby? It’s like the Special Olympics of conception!”

It’s the urban myth we, as IFers, cling to for dear life: it only takes one. It becomes a mantra – and I can just imagine hoardes of women across the nation with mental ticker tape running laps in their heads: it only takes one it only takes one it only takes one it only takes one IT ONLY TAKES ONE.

The truth, however, is that when you’re struggling with infertility (and I mean the Real McCoy – no previous child(ren) and none of that “Oh it’s been three weeks since we got married and I’m not pregnant, I have infertility! Waaaah!” Let me go see if I can dust off a pacifier for you.) anything even remotely related to the lofty ideal of “conception” involves, by necessity, a form of “Special Olympics”. What should be the product of an act of love becomes a science experiment gone awry. Whether it’s just the sheer volume of medications, injections, treatments, exams, excavations, poking and prodding you have to endure (and consequently almost turning into a roid rager, sans roids – though you’d be open to that if it meant inching up your chances), or the added insult your test results slap you in the face with by saying “oh hi there – you’re ancient, your uterus is a wasteland and…yeaaaah, good luck trying to grow anything resembling a human in there”.

For women my age – reproductive octogenarians – the statistics are so incredibly disheartening that I’m torn between just ignoring it all (ignorance is bliss) and taking it on board to temper my expectations and hopes (forewarned is forearmed). Live birth rates are appallingly low. I looked at a few clinics this month and the overall take-home baby rate is somewhere around 13-19%. Which means that, for somewhere between 81-87% of women my age shelling out a small fortune in the hopes that, for them too, it only takes one, the end result is pretty much the same as taking a pile of money and lighting it on fire.

And yet, of course, you have to go through the same rigmarole as your younger counterparts – except with so much less of a chance to see a light at the end of the tunnel. What makes all of this so much worse is that reproductive endocrinology is a subspecialty and is somewhat unregulated. So you might be wasting precious time on what is more or less an unqualified hack – or you can just roll the dice, pack your suitcase, and pay top dollar for the cream of the fertility treatments in the hopes that maybe, just maybe, going bankrupt will seem like less of a folly when you finally have a child of your own. I try not to let statistics get the better of me, but I’ve already passed several “gates” to hell in the march to the demise of any hopes that could carry me through.

Just the other day, I read a tiny little paragraph that stated how, by age 37, a woman only has 25,000 eggs left. 25,000, on the face of the number itself, sounds like a lot. 25,000 dollars is about 5 grand below what a single cycle of IVF – including ICSI – costs at a top fertility clinic like CCRM (and even they aren’t magicians, let’s face it). 25,000 dollars is the bottom figure for most domestic infant adoptions. I made less than half that much in a year at my first job.

But 25,000 eggs – compared to the roughly half a million we had at puberty – seems ridiculously low. It almost makes me laugh – you know, that insane, desperate kind of laugh right before your descent into hysteria – because it seems like a rather ridiculous proposition that your ovarian reserve is highest in utero. I mean, really? I sat back, somewhat shell-shocked, and thought – 25,000 at age 37 is probably the best case scenario. It goes downhill from there – both in quantity and quality. Where does that leave me? Do I have even half that many left?

At that point I thought about how absolutely appalled I was the first time someone mentioned egg donors or – rather incongruously to us, at the time – embryo donation. How I felt like someone had literally spat in my face and said, you don’t cut the mustard so you’re going to have to take someone else’s genetic material because, lady, yours ain’t worth squat. Let me tell you: nothing makes you realize the importance of biological offspring as much as someone telling you in no uncertain terms that it may very well not be in the cards for you. EVER.

Of course there are plenty of people who are all too willing to assuage your worst fears and nightmares with promises of “The Cure”. Whether it’s a website peddling a particular combo of placebos supplements or someone extolling the virtues of a particular diet (buy my book), everywhere you look, someone is promising that the answer to all your hopes and prayers is just a click away. Especially insidious are those little popups for adoption agencies and the siren song of “adoption is easier than you think” (which is really a gross misrepresentation because it’s missing the other half of the sentence: “if money is no object”).  Either way, you pretty much find yourself in a maelstrom of misinformation, statistics and outright illusions.

But let me go back to fictional Miranda and her Olympian conception for a moment. Needless to mention, I’ve seen this particular episode probably about three hundred times since I’ve rounded the corner of Infertility Hell – and, invariably, it requires a big spoon and a pint of ice cream without which, I’ve found, I either feel an especially fervent need to impale the tv with an assortment of blunt and/or sharp objects (hence the need for both of my hands to be otherwise occupied) or just dissolve into hot, bitter, angry tears. How dare they torment me with accidental pregnancy and talk of abortion? Don’t they KNOW how horrible this is for us? (Sidebar: I’m with Aiden, though – if you’re going to get accidentally pregnant and don’t really want to keep the child, why can’t you just give it to your bestie who’s struggling to conceive? I mean, really? No one’s saying that a child is like a sweater but…ugh.)

When Miranda blurts out her news – which, rather unhappily, coincides with Charlotte’s period – you are privvy to what real girlfriends are supposed to do. Charlotte, with salty tears stinging her eyes (oh yes, we can all commiserate with that), exclaims “how could you do that to me??” – which seems completely unfair to everyone…except an IFer. Oh how we understand exactly how Charlotte feels, what propels this seemingly selfish and totally irrational outburst. Whether we’ve actually said this to someone or not, we’ve all thought it. Somehow, they all rally though, in the end – true to fiction – and the others try to explain to both Miranda and Charlotte why each has a valid grievance with the situation at hand. At least Miranda – though fictional – has the good sense to tell Charlotte that she’s sorry and that she feels pretty $hitty about it.

I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that I’m not the only one who feels, if not entirely consoled, at least somewhat mollified by this display of concern for someone else’s feelings. Even though it’s obviously not the fault of the Fertile Myrtles around us – whether family members, BFFs or just acquaintances – who are just not as encumbered in the reproductive department as we are. But, again, I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who’s wanted to throw a temper tantrum when faced with another woman’s completely callous announcement of unplanned, unintended pregnancy – sans any concern or even so much as a modicum of understanding for the gamut of emotions that run through an IFer’s mind in such a situation.

In the Special Olympics for Conception, there are no second places; no honorary mentions. There’s only one goal – which you either accomplish successful after however many attempts you are allotted by fortune or obstinate persistence; or which forever becomes unattainable as you slink into obscurity to lick your wounds and consider your few remaining “options”.

I want to believe that, no matter how this all turns out for me specifically, I’ll be able to cope – somehow. I’m trying hard not to be angry that we live in some kind of backwater town with no access to suitable care for our situation. I’m trying to strengthen my resolve to model my behavior after that of so many other IFers: whatever it takes. We’ve already lost so much of ourselves in the years leading up to this one – drawing nary a full breath because we’re stuck in the maudlin fog of sorrow and despair.

Sometimes I find myself wondering why I even bother writing this blog at all. I feel like I’m stewing in the same cesspool of doubt, anger and fear that has frozen me in place for a ridiculously long time. Along the way, the casualties are mounting: untouched make-up, once-beloved shoes, accessories, clothes…all nestled in corners like forgotten ghosts of another lifetime. Books are gathering dust. Things I once used to look forward to and love are viewed with skepticism and trepidation.

I had this crazy idea a few weeks ago: I would call around to all the top fertility clinics and line up appointments over the next few months. I would pack my cutest travel bags full of the neglected wardrobe and take a road trip; hopefully meeting some of my fellow IFers in person for a long overdue coffee, scone, and probably a bit of a rant. I imagined hugs, commiserations, soaking in the cultural offerings of a big city somewhere, etc. But then, invariable, self-doubt sinks in and starts gnawing at what seemed like such a promising idea for a moment. Yeah, you’re really going to drive across the country by yourself. Are you crazy? Maybe you need more than your uterus and Fallopian tubes examined. And how exactly do you plan to bankroll your Thelma and Louise adventure? What makes you think anyone else has the time or desire to meet you in St. Louis Chicago New York Denver some city you know nothing about or no one in? 

The word “hare-brained” came to mind.”Numb-skull” and “crazy” may have made an appearance. I know that much of this day-dreaming is propelled by my long-term isolation; by feeling so lonely despite knowing that I’m far from the only one struggling like this; by a deep-rooted desire and need to stop wasting time and act, now! 

Instead, I figured that as soon as I feel well enough to actually leave the house, I’m going to just DO something and break these chains of morose torpidity! Even if it’s not really or directly related to fertility treatments. I’m just going to have to stop feeling sorry for myself and stop making excuses. Who cares if my body and I aren’t BFFs? Because, whatever else happens, wherever this road takes us and ends, I can’t keep watching reruns of someone else’s fictional life.

4 thoughts on “The Special Olympics of Conception

  1. I present you with a challenge: write about one non IF adventure once a week. Whether it is trying a new restaurant or a movie review, or book review or whatever! And ohhh, I need to stop reading the statistics… I prefer being delusional and ignorant 😉

    • I like it! And I’m definitely tending to side with your delusional bliss – after all, who needs more bad news? 🙂 🙂 Thanks for the pep talk!

  2. …nothing makes you realize the importance of biological offspring as much as someone telling you in no uncertain terms that it may very well not be in the cards for you. EVER…

    Oh, how very right you are. I remember the absolute grief that my husband and I suffered when he had the sperm count done and it came up with zero sperm. Not even one single solitary, double-tailed, dizzy one. It was scary, and it was lonely and it seemed quite hopeless, and it made me very angry when people would say “it only takes one” because we had none. Suffice it to say, I’ve been in a similar place, and I’m sorry.

    I hope I don’t sound insincere, but we are all here for you, crying with you, grieving with you and fighting with you. Whatever it takes.

    • You don’t sound insincere at all – on the contrary, your comments are very much appreciated! Sometimes I have a Meg Ryan moment and think about You’ve Got Mail, and I want to say something like…I’m sending this out into the cosmic void. I think there’s a complete ignorance – which seems somewhat deliberate – of the real toll that IF takes on an individual, a couple, on your state of mind, your sense of self…all of it. I never would’ve thought I’d be such a shell of myself, and yet here I am…trying to put the pieces back together. Thanks for stopping by & taking the time to comment! Hugs 🙂

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