the road to carmen, or: navigating infertility

Our road to Carmen hasn't been easy. While I've been particularly vocal about my pregnancy with Wylie as well as her death, I've yet to really go into our infertility struggle in depth. Mostly this is because there isn't much to say, but on the other hand, there is so much to say. Sometimes when they find out about our infertility issues, people respond with something along the lines of "I'm lucky I have no issues conceiving." It takes all I can to smile and nod. I don't find their words particularly callous, but that's probably because I was diagnosed with unexplained secondary infertility. That means that I, too, was fertile -- until I wasn't. For both Ethan and Wylie's conceptions, I never tracked my fertile dates. Heck, I didn't even know when I was supposed to be ovulating at all -- not even a ballpark. My periods had never been too regular -- always off by a few days -- but it never seemed to matter. I didn't put much stock into trying to figure it out. Both times, we said "let's have a baby" and did, on the first try. I can recall a time in particular during my early days of Wylie's pregnancy when a friend was struggling to conceive month after month and I, in all of my empathy and intended compassion, began my statement of reassurance with "I have no issues conceiving but..." Foot in mouth. Foot still lodged in mouth, all of these years later. That's the thing about unexplained secondary infertility -- you can conceive 46 babies on the first try, but that 47th? It may not happen. And the hardest part, to me, was that there was seemingly no medical reasoning behind it.

Our infertility journey began with fear. By the second month that I wasn't pregnant, I began to panic. My husband thought I was crazy. My OB thought I was crazy, but her gentle smile never broke even over the phone when I called to voice my concerns. By the third month, I caved and purchased a package of ovulation tracking strips off Amazon. By the fourth month, I was ruled by these test strips. By the fifth month, even my OB was starting to get concerned. After all, our past fertility history was pretty, well, impressive. It was month six when we were officially referred to a fertility specialist. "It's because you're not relaxed enough," everyone said.

That, right there, I need to discuss. Can we not completely trivialize infertility? Can we not act like no one in the history of the Earth has procreated successfully while under stress or even while grieving? Can people not bounce their babies on their knee while lecturing infertile people about how "it'll happen if you just relax?" That would be great.

Anyway, the reproductive endocrinologist (that's the fancy term for fertility specialist) was gentle and kind. The nurses were holding me and wiping my tears after appointment one, which I attended alone because no one really knows how to act around people who are infertile so they avoid you or the subject entirely.

Infertility is test after test being run. Blood tests of every imaginable kind, pelvic exams that leave you reeling in pain and sure your flesh has just been scraped straight off. Biopsies and ultrasounds with wands rammed up inside of you that make you scream out in pain even when you've had them done five times already in the past week. Shots in your stomach. Pills that make your stomach turn and make you throw up and fall to your knees in cramps that make the entire situation feel even more unbearable. Even your husband gets subjected to his own levels of pride-killing humiliation.

And results that come back totally fine in every way. That's always the kicker.

Ever since we were teenagers, we had planned on having two children and adopting two children. Adoption has always been on our radar, but maybe as something farther away. All you ever hear about adoption is the cost associated and the hurdles and hoops to jump through. But then you're $10,000 in the hole with fertility treatments that are wreaking havoc on your stability. There was one day in particular that I had to have my period induced and had to leave a playdate (in which many of my friends were sitting on my sofa nursing their little ones and talking about birth stories) to go have my insides dug at while sitting on the always humiliating puppy pee pad -- that day had a hard recovery period. And soon that day became the new normal because your days become consumed by the schedule the reproductive endocrinologist has you on and being hurt by everyone else living their normal lives and each time your results come back perfectly fine and no one can tell you anything except that your life, you're sure of it, is over and will never be righted again.

Anyway, one day I came home from one of those appointments to find out the treatment hadn't worked and I wasn't pregnant and I fell onto the floor in front of my bed and sobbed until I threw up and my husband held me and together we decided it was enough. In my heart of hearts, I didn't want to be pregnant. We wanted to grow our family and nothing made sense less than doing so biologically and so we decided that we would stop our infertility journey and focus instead of finding our baby. He or she was out there, or would be soon enough.

There's somewhere I'm going with this, a post brewing in my brain, but I felt like it needed a preface. Carmen gave my life back to me. She blew the wind back into my sails. She breathed new hope into our family, and some kind of normalcy back into a world that had been rocked to it's very core. She made me feel like I was a mother again, like I could mother again. She showed me that I am not broken.

Can I conceive naturally? Maybe. However, we have made the choice to take that option off the table. Loss and infertility has rendered us unable to have the "how many children do you plan on having" small talk that most mothers share on a regular basis. Much of what it is to be normal and a parent has been skewed by the cards we were dealt, but it has been Carmen to has created our new path. In all of her petite preemie presence, she has changed our lives in such a big way. She is a massive force of hope and purpose.

"I want to adopt when I'm a grown up," Ethan said the other day. "Carmen is supposed to be here in our family so we had to get her. When I'm a grown up I think my kids will be somewhere else and I'll have to bring them where they belong, too."

(To be continued, or something like that.)

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