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Added: October 9, 2021
This First Person column is written by Aaron Hoyland who lives in Edmonton. For more information about CBC’s First Person stories, please see the FAQ.
It’s 3 a.m. My wife is going for her official pregnancy test later that morning to see if our embryo transfer worked. I wake up as she crawls into bed behind me. “I couldn’t wait, so I took a test,” she tells me.
I wait, steeling myself for the results.
“It was negative,” she says. I deflate. No baby this month.
One in six couples has trouble conceiving. I never imagined I’d be one of them.
My wife had told me that she probably wouldn’t be able to conceive naturally back on our third date. “Well, if we get to that point, I guess we’ll just do IVF,” I thought to myself. I assumed you just paid some money and voila! A baby. It turns out it’s not that simple.
This was our third try.
At that moment, lying in bed beside my wife, my mind moves in a million different directions.
It goes to the doctors and nurses and staff at the clinic. They work so hard to give us what nature tries to deny. Always so compassionate and gentle with us. Sometimes you can tell they’re trying to ensure we remain positive. Once you do this long enough, you start to understand why.
My mind goes to our bank account. Things are okay for now, thanks to some too-generous wedding gifts from family members that understand our struggles. I think of all the couples who never even have the opportunity to try what we can try. It’s a scientific miracle that this is even an option for couples like us. I know I should be grateful.
My mind goes to the books downstairs on the coffee table. Books on pregnancy and baby names. Maybe I’ll put them away before my wife gets up, so she doesn’t have to. She always starts reading them before I do, even before that first pregnancy test.
Sometimes I worry that she thinks I don’t care as much as she does, but that’s not it. It’s a defence mechanism. I let myself get excited once, too early, and I don’t think I can handle that again. She’s much stronger than I am.
We cope in different ways. Maybe we’ll go for ice cream later. That’ll help. At least now she can have a glass of wine and a hot bath. Silver linings and all that.
I feel her body against me. I pull her arms tighter around me and I hear her breath quicken as the tears come. I’m still groggy from sleep, but I know mine will follow soon.
I think of all the pills she has to take, and the injection bruises that dot her abdomen. In a way, they’re my fault. Since we’ve started, I’ve done every single injection. One cancelled cycle, one completed one, and three embryo transfers. We must be over 100 shots by now.
I just need to feel like I’m doing something — anything. The feeling of powerlessness can be overwhelming.
When she goes for an ultrasound, I wait. She has a check on her uterine lining. I wait. She goes for blood work. I wait. I hate that there isn’t more that I can do. At least with the injections, I feel like I’m helping, somehow. I know I have the easy part. It’s not fair. I wish I could take on more of it from her.
In many ways, we’re lucky. We ended up with six embryos that we could try implanting. Many couples don’t get nearly that many. We still have three more we can try. Maybe one of them will work and we’ll forget all about this part of the process. Maybe they won’t.
We can try again in a month or two. Hope springs eternal, right? But here’s the part that no one tells you: you can’t do this forever. And it’s not about the time or the money. It’s that every time it doesn’t work, it costs you something deep in yourself.
People talk of hope as though it’s the currency of the naive. I now know that those people are wrong. Hope requires courage. Believe me when I tell you that letting yourself succumb to the inevitability of disappointment is so much easier than daring to hope and being let down.
A funny thing happens when you share with the world that you have fertility challenges. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, all of these people come out of the woodwork to tell you that they too struggled. Often people you know, and had no idea.
Fertility challenges and pregnancy loss can feel profoundly isolating, but they don’t have to be. There are so many more of us than people realize, and there is comfort in solidarity.
We shift, and now I’m holding her.
“We’ll be okay,” I tell her.
And we will.
Many of the best parts of my life are the things that didn’t go according to plan. Maybe this will be one more.
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