‘I’m so sorry. They all died.’ My dreams SHATTERED. I was afraid I’d never get to be a mother.’: Couple battling male-factor infertility share path to parenthood, ‘I’m proud to be their mom’

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Trigger Warning: This story contains mention of suicidal thoughts that may be triggering to some.

“I never dreamed of the perfect wedding day or fantasized about an ambitious career. My happy place was simple. I just wanted to be a mom. Just. A. Mom. My first memories are playing with my dolls, pretending they were my babies. Carrying them from room to room, feeding them, bathing them, loving them. Being the oldest of four kids, I often was the surrogate mommy. It’s a role I loved. My plan was to have a large family, be a stay-at-home mom, a homemaker, by choice. I studied art and did extensive graduate work in early childhood education, always knowing I ultimately would be working in the home.

I was 27 when my husband and I married in 2013. After a year of traveling around the country to all our friends’ weddings, we started trying. And trying. And trying. You know the gut-wrenching feeling, the whisper in your ear, the silent echo telling you something is wrong? The inner voice you know isn’t ‘just’ your anxiety. I knew something was wrong. I knew I should be pregnant already. My husband persisted everything was fine, and we just needed time for the pieces to fall together. However, I tend to lean on the hyper-emotional anxious side of life and insisted we go to the fertility specialist after 6 months.

They ran the tests. Took the blood. Poked and prodded me. And we waited. Until the follow-up consult, where they told us my husband suffered from severe male-factor infertility. The doctor told us the semen analysis had shown my husband’s sperm was extremely low in motility, mortality, and morphology. To be blunt, the sperm was slow, dead, and/or deformed. We would never get pregnant naturally. At this point, we were told our only chance of having biological children was through IVF with ICSI. This news was devastating. I was so young, how could IVF be our only option? But it was a clear plan, and we wanted a family, so we scheduled our first cycle.

Like all infertility newbies, you believe your first IVF cycle will result in a positive pregnancy test. It’s just awful enough, there is no way anyone would have to go through treatments more than once. The drugs, the needles, and blood draws, not to mention the emotional trauma. Everything was going according to the new plan—stims, retrieval—and now we wait for the embryo count. I will never forget the moment the doctor walked in the room and looked at us with eyes that could only mean my heart was about to break. She said, ‘I’m sorry. None of them made it.’ After that, I almost didn’t hear anything else out of her mouth. When I looked up, I read her lips: ‘They all died.’

We were told my husband’s sperm was too abnormal. It was like a knife was stuck into my chest, over and over again. My worst fears were realized. The cycle that was supposed to give us our firstborn… failed. Our world collapsed. My dreams were shattered. I didn’t get out of bed for days. I had suicidal thoughts. I was lost. We would never have children together. At the time, I believed I would never be a mother. The idea of something so primal being taken away from you is soul-quaking. What did I do to deserve this? Why me? Why us? And then my kind, self-sacrificing husband gave me hope. He suggested we use another man’s sperm to build our dreams of a family. Donor sperm.

When we selected our first donor, my husband and I felt strange—almost like we were engaged in a twisted online dating site.

Me: ‘I like this one, he’s tall.’

Husband: ‘Meh, too tall, and he has a weird nose.’

Me: ‘This guy has kind eyes.’

Husband: ‘What’s his background? What does he do for work?’

It took a while, to say the least. If I thought it was hard to find a partner when I was a single 20-something-year-old living in the city, choosing a genetic half for our children with my spouse was even harder. We finally selected a donor who met our criteria and moved forward with another cycle. This time, we had three perfect embryos conceived with donor sperm. We transferred one and froze the other two, and 9 months later in 2016 our son was born.

Courtesy of Melissa

Our miracle boy. I was finally a mother! 2 years later, we decided we wanted to grow our family and transfer our frozen ’embabies’ which had been in storage. We would do a frozen embryo transfer, and it would be easy and far less invasive. Right? Unfortunately, with infertility, nothing is ever straightforward.

Within 6 months I had had one hysteroscopy and two failed FETs. And we were not only out of embryos, but our donor no longer had vials available. Again, I found myself feeling lost. Infertility will forever be a mindf*ck. Just when you think you have the answer, the rug is pulled out from under you. The old wounds resurface, the salt is poured in. Again, we were at a point where we would need to decide how and if we would continue to build our family. Having made the decision to use a donor once before, choosing a second donor was not as difficult. While I initially hoped for children who were full biological siblings, we felt as if a second donor was not as big of an issue since they would ultimately have the same father. Two IVF cycles later we were pregnant again, with a baby girl due in March of 2020.

Courtesy of Melissa

My second pregnancy was filled with heightened anxiety and fear. Fear of loss, genetic mutations, fear of death. And unlike my first pregnancy, I started seeking out support from other heterosexual couples using donor sperm. Surprisingly, there was very little support out there, but I happened upon a small online forum and connected with another woman using donor sperm. This was the first woman I had ever spoken with who was living with the complexities of male-factor infertility and we quickly become daily pen pals. And while I still have never met this woman, she is one of my closest confidantes and dearest friends. With this stranger, I have shared my darkest thoughts and fears around infertility and marriage. Hopes around motherhood and the cruel, unpredictable nature of fertility treatments.

Courtesy of Melissa

This friendship made me realize how important it was to connect with other people in my community of donor conception. And how important it was not only for myself but for my children. I wanted to be a voice to help others like myself who felt isolated in the realm of third-party reproduction. As a parent of donor-conceived children, I am passionate about transparency and being there for my children through all of their social and emotional development around understanding their origins.

Courtesy of Melissa

This is my path to parenthood, it has been long and filled with heartbreak and great joy. While I don’t know what my family will look like 5 years from now, today I can proudly say I am a mother of two donor sperm-conceived children. In the end, I don’t think it matters too much which donor you choose. Your children are your children. They are the souls who were meant to be tied with yours forever, no matter how they come into your life.

Courtesy of Melissa

I will often look at my husband and say, ‘Thank you. Thank you for loving me, and loving us enough, to sacrifice your genetics so I could be a mother.’ And honestly, I’m not ‘just’ a mother. I am their mother.”

Courtesy of Melissa

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Melissa of New Hampshire. You can follow their journey on Instagram here and here. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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