If wishes were fishes

This fertility thing has me feeling like I’m skipping along holding a basket of eggs, and with every step I take another falls and breaks. I have no idea if I’m even capable of having another baby, and yet here I am all ready to go, completely immersed in the belief that it will happen by next month. I even have a midwife picked out. I’ve already spoken with her and have her number on standby, I started putting money aside to buy a new stash of cloth diapers and had a friend give me all her maternity clothes. A stack of stretchy shirts and button-down pants all sitting next to my dresser: ironed, folded and ready as though I will start wearing them tomorrow. What the fuck am I doing? I swore I’d never get myself lost in trying again, and I here I am having barely even dipped my toes in the idea and already pulled to jump into deep water. Is it really so impossibly hard not to obsess over this shit?

Ever since Xan was born I’ve been obsessed with three: three is the perfect family, the perfect number, the perfect recipe to make a happy home. Everywhere I go I see three. For years now. Mothers with a full, round belly and two little ones running at her feet, three of all different ages playing tag in the park, two elders tending to a small baby – endless combinations of an unattainable perfection. They’re always smiling and happy. I romanticize the idea even when the reality is right in front of me: three is not easier, it’s not better, it’s just another shade of normal family life. It just is.
I’ve been struggling for years with this warped idea that three will fix a part of me that’s broken, and it wasn’t until I could put it down and get a little closure on Jericho’s death that I could even begin to think about trying for a fourth.
I don’t think I’m truly over it, I won’t ever be and I don’t ever want to be, but I think I’m in a place where I know this would be four instead of three. I’ll always want three because I’ll never have it. Even if I come to see that fantasy with three of my living, breathing children all standing together holding hands, there will always be a big ugly hole where the third should have been: it’ll be one, two and four. There can’t ever be a three again.


My fertility is fucked. I know it’s premature to be worried about it one month into officially trying, but I’ve got a long history to back it up. The last 18 months of cycles have been 50/50 and falling. I saw a glimmer of hope in one very promising, if not bizarre, change… I’m clinging to it like my life’s purpose is on the other side – but I don’t want to get in too far. I made Curtis sit down and give us an end date. I can’t get trapped in that cycle of hope and disappointment, when it shifts into obsession and strips all the fun and romance out of a sex life and warps it into another night of sacrifice toward an impossible goal. Been there, done that – not interested in a round two.

I haven’t really gone into where the whole ‘previous infertility’ thing comes from, which I’m sure has drawn a few raised eyebrows from the naive. I say naive because I think anyone who has even the smallest link to the world of “TTC” and infertilty would know that it’s never that black and white; just because you eventually had children doesn’t negate a struggle to get that far. I may have had three children since, but that doesn’t make what was said to me back then untrue. I was fortunate. I’ve already surpassed what I was given in terms of childbearing years: repeated pregnancies and extended breastfeeding do a body good. If we’d waited a few more years we may have missed our window entirely.

“Primary infertility” is when an otherwise normal couple who haven’t been able to get pregnant (for the first time) despite a year or more of unprotected sex with the intent to conceive. Primary infertility could be permanent (like ovarian defects), or it could be temporary (like a couple who simply didn’t realize that you can’t make a baby through your navel). It’s good to note that regardless of the reasons behind their struggle, it is no less emotionally trying.
… Outside of the sex-with-belly-buttons people, at least.
Even if they do eventually succeed, that doesn’t magically erase the pain and frustration they felt during the time they were trying.

“Secondary infertility” is when you find yourself unable to conceive after you’ve already had at least one child (or two, or three…) with no previous fertility problems. In couples with secondary infertility, many of the initial conceptions merely came down to dumb luck. There are a million reasons how and why that could happen, but I’ll let the curious work it out themselves.
With that biology in mind: primary infertility best describes the situation before we had Tempest, with a big fat question mark thereafter.

I started blogging in ’99, so I used to have years of that stuff written out: all the techniques, the monthly disappointment, the charting, the cysts and the constant ultrasounds, the doctor appointments and the consults with the [ Genesis Clinic ]. All the dramatics and theatrics and heartbreak. Looking back is impossible. I thought the worst news came in the window of a negative pregnancy stick; another $20 wasted on a triphasic chart and impatience. I was so fucking naive. Most of my early blogging years were centered around fertility and pregnancy. I moved it all to private some time ago.

I’ve been watching my cycles since my first period because I had to, I’ve charted in one form or another since then. It was necessary for me to keep track of it all for the sake of the specialists (endocrinologists, and such) overseeing my treatment for [ Pituitary Dwarfism ]. Everything halted at the tender age of eight, like some almighty erected a wall in my path to adulthood. I didn’t develop secondary sexual characteristics, I didn’t grow, it was obvious something was up… but even then another six years went by before anyone finally realized what was wrong. I received treatment at 14, and it didn’t take long to finally start developing breasts, have a period, grew… it was all rather fucked up – and painful – but I could finally fill out a sweater so I was pretty happy about it.
The course of my puberty was a huge part of tracking my progress. Could I maintain a period? Was I showing fertile symptoms? I kept a calendar next to my bathroom where I wrote down every tiny tick of my internal clock, every night I didn’t sleep, every episode of searing pain in my muscles and bones, every episode of spotting. On top of that were the blood tests, ultrasounds and the x-rays of the bones in my hands like they were rings on a tree. Birthdays don’t mean the paper they’re written on amidst the stack of bloodwork and new research about synthetic hormones. I didn’t really give a shit about them either. All I cared about was getting into high school and not being mistaken for a first grader.
When it all started I think I was probably the only teenager up all night praying to get a period. I prayed and hoped and wished with all my heart to one day have a proper body. When the mammary fairy finally did catch up with me, she seemed to have overcompensated for missing me all those Christmases before.

Eventually I learned enough about charting to record all the amazing details like cervical position, the properties of mucous, basal body thermometers… It didn’t take long to realize that all that praying for a menstrual cycle probably wasn’t the wisest thing to beg an almighty entity for. Starting a forced puberty with a severe case of hormonal fuckedupitude isn’t the best recipe for a good time. I learned quickly that fertility problems and early menopause are the trade off for being given a chance. I was under no delusion that I was to have normal fertility, and by the time I was with Curtis he knew all about the risks. Charting was a way to keep a vigil for the dream of future children.

The only other person I ever met with the same condition and same course of treatment ended up suffering primary ovarian failure before she even lost her virginity.
Her reality was my worst nightmare.

So I watched; my body was a temple with an armored guard. Somehow I thought that by micromanaging my uterus I would force it to become fertile. I was put on birth control pills, then hormone therapy, then estrogen pills, all in attempts to give my cycles some sort of regularity. All it gave me was more cysts.
Meanwhile, at every follow up appointment I was asked if I still wanted kids. Did I know that I had to think about those things? Did I realize that if I didn’t have children now I wouldn’t have them at all? I spent a lot of that time very depressed. One evening I joked to my mother that if I didn’t have children by 25, that I needed her to help me save for an IVF with donor sperm. I was only half kidding.

Anyway.

Somewhere around ’99 I learned about online charting. Software that did it for you and an online support community? I was so there.
I got on the Toni Weschler bandwagon, bought myself some charting software, got myself established on some online forums, joined up at iVillage and in newsgroups that discussed to NFP… stuff that doesn’t even exist anymore, (which is a little scary). It’s been so long since those days that I can only barely remember what happened on the forums, let alone the people I made real connections with. I only vaguely remember a woman on the PCOS boards with the word “aunty” or “aunt” in her handle… someone we all loved, who had been trying to get pregnant for more than 12 years. She had many failed IVFs, IUIs and had undergone a lot of hormone therapy – but she was also our leading expert on all things charting, herbal medicine, PCOS, hormones, TCM and acupuncture… she had all the answers, and was never impatient with those who needed them. Everyone needs information on the fertility forums. It’s now or never for everyone.
She stood as both a harbinger of our possible future, and a guide to get us through.
I have to credit her wisdom in part of Tempest’s conception: without her guidance I never would have been able to extend an eight-day luteal phase into something workable.

For those who aren’t as familiar with the inner workings: an ovum only lives for about 12 hours, but sperm can live a lot longer. Once conception occurs and the egg starts to split, it’s still just floating around in there. It doesn’t implant for 7-10 days. If you have an eight day luteal phase, the chances of a fertilized egg finding a cozy spot and actually staying there before your period starts is pretty slim. I had tried everything short of intense hormonal therapy to get it to lengthen, and only after a lot of work with a bunch of shit did I finally manage to push it to 9-10 days.
We didn’t have high hopes, and I had several consultations that led to a booking with the fertility clinic that December. We were all set to have an IUI (without meds, at least the first time – my main doctor was very against the use of clomid).

We ended up not needing the appointment: a pregnancy finally stuck about five months later. It was a fucking miracle. I was also dealing with the effects of constant cysts and endometriosis in full rage… I’d completely given up. I felt like my uterus a warzone with bombs exploding and everything.

The boys were dumb luck. Jericho was conceived a few months after two back-to-back miscarriages that happened on my first fertile cycles postpartum (I had a Mirena [hormonal] IUD put in before my period returned after Tempest was born, and the first miscarriage happened during an expulsion three months later – Jericho was conceived on the third or fourth cycle after that).
Xan was conceived before my period came back after Jericho’s “birth”, and I’m still confused how that managed to happen when I was breastfeeding, pumping, using condoms, and less than 56 days out of a nearly-full-term pregnancy.

But, there you go.

On that online charting site I used to have data going back to 1999; I had backdated it from some sort of computer software and my old paper charts. Unfortunately I lost the password and couldn’t send a request for another: I had everything attached to an ISP-based email account that expired when I switched service providers. They wouldn’t accept my explanations of the situation. I ended up creating a second account somewhere around 2004, which I’m still using today.
With all those years of experience, I’ve learned how to read my body, even when it’s screwier than normal… which is why I was so confused when I opened up my account a few nights ago to add in the day’s symptoms and realized the last month looked very odd.

I took a closer look over last month’s (well, cycle. “Month” is relative) chart, as it was abnormally long even for me and I was looking for any symptoms of ovulation. I haven’t really checked my cycles that closely in a few years because I’ve had no real reason to; we were not trying to have a baby, and I had a copper IUD in… I just marked in my symptoms and went on with my day.
I found that not only had I ovulated last cycle, but my luteal phase appeared to be 14 days long. Which is impossible… Right? It can’t change like that, can it? I figured I must be seeing an attempt to ovulate and had merely forgotten, or misunderstood, symptoms of actual ovulation the week after. I started sifting back through years and years of charts and found the most bizarre thing: over the last year, (when I’ve actually ovulated), I’ve had 14 day luteal phases. The year before that was 12 day luteal phases. The year before that 10 days… and year before that was my normal 8 days.

Everything I’ve heard, been taught, or read about, says that you cannot increase your luteal phase like that (with the exception of intense hormone therapy). Double points against it is the fact that menopause generally shortens your luteal phase even further. When my first menopausal symptoms set in I had about a dozen weeks of Premarin to control some of the more intense symptoms, but I ended up dropping it – and that wouldn’t account for all that.

So. I have no idea.

I don’t exactly have extremely high expectations for a fourth. Wishes and hopes are one thing, but reality is another. This is more of a “let’s just see what happens” thing. I don’t want to get locked in the neverending cycle of trying and failing. I don’t expect we’d come out of this all smiles if we didn’t conceive, but I don’t want to fall into a pit of despair either.
The luteal phase thing is confusing as fuck, but gives me a lot of hope that maybe I’m all backwards and inside-out for good this time, and it’ll give me a fighting chance to have another before my baby train crashes and burns.

I don’t know. We’ll see, I guess. Patience isn’t my strong suit.

Comments

comments

46 Comments

  • The whole fertility game is NOT for the faint of heart… I’ve had my time in the TTC world, charting, multiple miscarriages, short luteal phases, hormonal imbalances, and morel. So I can relate to your apprehension. But somehow I think a baby #4 is definitely in your future. Can’t wait to watch it unfold… ;-P Enjoy the process, ’cause it will happen. But do try not to obsess, that is no fun at all.

  • bluealoe says:

    (sorry for the late reply, it’s been a hectic week.)

    I’m not going to pretend I understand the intricacies of infertility, but I wanted to say that I read everything you wrote and I’m thinking of you. I sincerely hope that whether you have a fourth or not, that you’ll be okay with what happens.

    What you write about always having a hole where the third should be…*hugs tight* I haven’t lost a child, but I know the feeling of there being a giant aching hole in your life where a certain person should be.

    I love you.

  • Anonymous says:

    peri-menopause, cycle duration, iVillage

    Heather, we probably cross-posted at iVillage back in the day – I loved your explanation of the different kinds of infertility and how it doesn’t ever “go away” even after you’ve had children.

    Anyway, I’m not TTC and my 2 kids are crazy conception stories, but I did want to comment on your lengthening luteal phase.

    I’d never heard that menopause shortens the luteal phase. For me, peri-menopause has meant a ridiculously short follicular phase. For the last 4 years my cycles have varied between 16 days (TOTAL CYCLE LENGTH) and 25 days. My luteal phase is ALWAYS 14 days. So yeah, many times I’m ovulating on day 2 of my cycle.

    I think it’s likely that your cycle is lengthening as you approach menopause. I think each woman’s experience of perimenopause is unique. I wish you the best in conceiving this 4th!

    • admin says:

      Re: peri-menopause, cycle duration, iVillage

      Thank you for this. πŸ™‚

    • admin says:

      Re: peri-menopause, cycle duration, iVillage

      PS. When reading about it, I kept pulling information that said one of the most common changes to your cycle during perimenopause was shortening of the luteal phase. Menopause is all about *losing* your fertility, so that makes sense. I didn’t read anything about improved fertility, but I know that’s possible as there are many, many stories of menopause babies happening after years of struggle.

  • OMG

    OMG Have you seen this article? I read it and thought about you because your always talking about natural child birth. I was scared about these before now I am terrified

    http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/how-could-this-happen-hospital-blunder-turns-a-familys-joy-into-heartbreak-20100820-138xw.html

  • fallingwthu says:

    I just had my baby last month and it took me nearly 4 years of trying after my second born. It can be a bitch getting started. But then again I’m in my late 30s and my husband has a low sperm count so that might have something to do with having trouble getting pregnant.

    I wish you luck getting pregnant.

  • maylea_moon says:

    i had secondary infertility which was really irritating. my first son, rowan, was conceived pretty much the second i quit taking the pill…i threw it out and 2 weeks later i had a positive pregnancy test. i naively thought, “oh it will be exactly the same with #2”. yeah….or not. we tried for over a year, i was using FAM, peeing on ovulation predictor tests, the whole thing…when i finally got pregnant i miscarried. 2 cycles later when we decided we really weren’t ready for another baby we had sex ONCE and 2 weeks later i was pregnant with my daughter. WHAT!?

    we only planned on 2 and then our 3rd was conceived after a night of too much vodka and no condoms. i’ll never understand why it took over a year to get pregnant and have a miscarriage when my other 3 were basically 1 act of sex and bam. life is really weird that way but i’m hoping and have my fingers crossed that this happens fast for you!! <3

  • I have such a huge appreciation for the TTC process. I was naive enough to think that unprotected sex would automatically = baby so when my husband and I started trying I was crushed after the first month. then I became obsessed with it – charting, temping, opk’s, timed sex…

    it was the month we had sex MAYBE 3 times that I was LEAST expecting a BFP and got one. crazy how things work!

    good luck on your journey! and damn – with a luteal phase like that…your chances are awesome!

    • admin says:

      The luteal phase isn’t the part I’m worried about being in the way (it’s more the lack of ovulating), but yes, it is really good that it’s longer now… for whatever reason that is!

  • bazo0ka says:

    I wish you good luck!!

    I also have to say, I’ve had completely off the wall unexpected pregnancies in completely no-possibility situations.

    Similar to yours, breastfeeding, although 11 months post-partum, and using condoms religiously, with no return of AF I somehow found myself pregnant. (ending in a 11wk sac with 5wk pole, D&C)
    After my second child, the same thing happened, this time, just 10 months post-partum.
    My girls were breastfed all night long, and most of the day was spent on the couch with my shirt up or down. With that much breastfeeding, lack of sleep, and no period, no signs of ovulation(I chart as well), no nothing, I have NO idea how it happened. No broken condoms, no nearly broken condom, no slipped condom, no foreplay without a condom, sex once a month if that…. Miracle. LOL

    • admin says:

      My mom conceived my brother through a condom, too. It happens. πŸ˜‰ Even with proper use there’s always a failure rate!

      When we finally did get pg with Tempest, I was BARELY recovering from a near life-threatening bout of mono (long story) and so we weren’t exactly fucking around like rabbits. I honestly think it was one of just a few times that month I felt well enough to want sex… but had stopped caring about TTC, especially then… lo and behold!

  • marbyco says:

    *smacks forehead* I don’t even know what the luteal phase is, let alone how to tell how long it is. These are things I need to start paying attention to.
    Out of curiosity, why did you guys choose the Genesis clinic over our local one? Or was it not around 7 years ago.

    • admin says:

      I don’t think there was one 8.5 years ago, when we first got the referral. We didn’t actually choose it at all. Ours was a special situation, obviously, so maybe if there was one it wasn’t properly equipped?… I don’t know. We were given a big thing full of test orders, and half of them took place in a lab locally, but all the appointments and procedures were taking place at Genesis.

  • that’s awesome! I’ve never had a luteal phase longer than 12 days without the help of prometrium.

  • gen_here says:

    My luteal phases change from month to month, too. My last 5 (going backwards – I just looked them up) were 10, 14, 12, 14, 13. The crazies go on for the entire time I’ve charted – at least 3 years worth.

    I think I figured out that my issue was low progesterone. I had 2 miscarriages last year, and it took us 12 more months to get pregnant again… and only after 2 months of natural progesterone treatment (done on my own by reading and trying – we don’t have insurance and can’t afford specialist on our own). Thankfully we got pregnant, and the progesterone seems to be helping keep this little babe around.

    But I know that fertility issues show in millions of different ways. I’m not trying to say that *my* solution is *the* solution – for you or anyone else. But I do know I’m thankful it worked for us… and I’ll be praying that your miracle happens, too.

  • letitshine says:

    haha! babies babies babies! i knew you’d eventually try for a 4th. I’ve always seen you with more than your 3.

    I remember when you used to say you’d probably never try again. πŸ˜‰ and I’d be like “just wait n see..” haha

    ok ok anyways I just wanted to say you might be obsessing a bit already. I mean look at how long this thing is! I love reading our posts so dont mistake this for a complaint but I’d rather not put my reading enjoyment before your personal health. πŸ˜‰ πŸ˜‰

    I hope all goes well. it will. do not worry!!

  • Im really excited for you!

    One thought I have is accupuncture, which according to the CBC has a 65% success rate with infertility.

  • Anonymous says:

    can i get a woot woot for ivillage!! met all my best friends there, no joke.

    • admin says:

      Really? The fertility boards were great back in the day, but the parenting boards were GODAWFUL for me.

      • nevaehrae says:

        Ivillage TTC or other boards similar to that are wonderful! You meet great people there!

      • Anonymous says:

        the fertility boards are still great and the 20ish parents board is my 2nd home. i can call or text those girls in the middle of the night if i need them and i can talk to them about ANYTHING. also debates are not allowed on that board so it eliminates the problems that a lot of the other parenting boards have. there are currently a few members there struggling through infertility as well

  • Hey there!
    I just wanted to introduce myself…Name is Erika, and I added you from your infamous “no poo” post.

    And wow.

    I’m a mother of two of my own, and I already want another one too! (Lily was just born in April.)
    I miss my belly, and yeah. Pregnancy is just a beautiful thing.

    If I could, I would definitely give you some of my fertility! The second I get off of birth control I’ve gotten pregnant. It’s nuts.

    So here’s a total stranger sending good vibes and prayers your way. πŸ™‚

  • Best of luck and happy-fun times while trying πŸ™‚

  • jenrose1 says:

    I used to have 7 day luteal phases. I think I had a 5 day one once. Vitex just *fixed* that problem, as long as I take it, I have 14 day LP, pretty much on the nose. My cycles are so ridiculously *normal* on Vitex that it’s hard to believe I used to have 21 day cycles with brutal, brutal periods and endo.

    If whatever was causing the short LP healed, then yeah, it’s possible to lengthen.

    • admin says:

      I never knew that was possible… but if that’s the case, then it’s coinciding with the menopause starting up. Looking back over years of cycles is bizarre, it’s like every 8-10 months I gain another day.

  • res_urrected says:

    I know I don’t know you well, or comment often, but I wanted to say that I read every one of your entries all the way through. I am always at a loss at what to say– so much is so sad and beautiful, I feel like I cannot do justice to how much all your stories touch me. I always go and kiss my baby. Reading your stories about Jericho and the other Baby Angels are the only time I give myself permission to feel sad and afraid about all the things that went wrong with my daughter– how she was born, how sick she was, how I couldn’t touch her for 5 days, how she didn’t cry for 7 whole days, how we were almost one of those couples like you photograph holding their babies for the last time. By the skin of our teeth and the grace of God we can say almost. I am sorry you can’t say that, I am sorry for those other mothers. I hope you get your fourth and find that you can be ok with that in your heart. I think your son would want you to be.

  • nevaehrae says:

    Dont lose hope! You have two very blessed and beautiful children! It will happen. Its always when you stop trying….the stress of trying I think always makes for a hard time to conceive with severely irregular menses. It took me a year of charting and trying for my daughter.
    I always viewed 3 as the perfect family too. But my husband wanted to badly for just 2 and no more, so I fulfilled his wishes and had a tubal…..which I greatly regret.
    Good Luck and hope it happens for you soon πŸ™‚

  • jodie_anna says:

    thanks for sharing this; it was very interesting to read. I really hope all the good signs lead to your hearts’ desire! We are trying for a 5th (I recently miscarried our 4th early into the pgcy). I have had peri-menopausal symptoms in the past year and since having a c/s with our first, conception has always taken many months. The month by month waiting, hoping, analyzing every twinge of change in your body is nerve wracking to say the least. I too cringe at the thought of going through that again and also hope my chances for having the child that makes our family feel “complete” have not passed. Best of luck to you.

  • You know how I feel about all this. <3 A 14-day luteal phase sounds AMAZING. The best I've got is 12 (and they say it doesn't change cycle to cycle but uh, mine does, although it's starting to normalize now). Hey, did I ever respond to your email? If I didn't it's because I forgot and not because I was upset about anything.

    I think you’re smart to set a time frame. I’m struggling now with this feeling like life is permanently on hold until “Phase 2– Start Making People” kicks in. We’re not yet at a point where we feel we need to seriously consider what to do if it doesn’t happen, and hopefully we won’t get there, but we might have to talk about that at some point. I really hope not.

    I think I have a lining problem, btw. I don’t think I should be having potentially 50-day cycles and then three days of light bleeding and one day of spotting and that’s it. I’m going to call in the morning and ask my doctor about that.

    I really hope you get your #4. No one will replace Jericho, but every child you add to your family is someone else to love who will make your heart feel bigger and fuller, which might help for those days when it feels like the hole in it is growing. <3

  • effervescent says:

    I know you’ve heard this before in comments, but you are so incredibly self aware, I admire it.

    ♥ If good vibes help with pregnancies, well, you know that you have a lot coming from this direction. I still remember the post you made when you found out about Xan πŸ™‚

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