‘We were so focused on building a family, we forgot we ARE a family.’: Woman details infertility journey, ‘We have so much love for each other’

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Disclaimer: This story mentions infertility and sexual abuse and may be triggering to some.

“Shortly after my 30th birthday, I walked out of an abusive relationship and was prepared to be single forever. After all, I had already been taking care of myself for a long, long time. I’d be just fine on my own until, eventually, once my career was sufficiently high-powered, I would become a single mom and we would take care of each other. This was the dream, or so I thought, when I met Matthew a month later.

We happened to sit at the same community table at a local pub. He was charming, handsome, and was in a band about to release their first album. I was enchanted and gave him my business card. Three days later, to my surprise, he contacted me to tell me that the album release was delayed but he’d like to see me again, and we made a plan to hang out.

What drew me to Matthew was his patient and kind nature. Our first date was hijacked by a man who was traveling for work and clearly needed company. Matt was patient with him constantly butting into our conversation, giving him the time of day where not many would. I enjoyed Matthew’s presence. I enjoyed his calmness. He was adventurous and was easy to make plans with. I decided to take one day at a time, not plan our future out, but rather just be with him for however long it lasted— if it ended tomorrow or a month from now, I decided to enjoy every moment we spent together.

Woman hugging man in front of the water
Courtesy of Anya Cason

We both secretly knew we found ‘the one.’ Everything was effortless, and as early as a few months in, we started discussing baby names and our plans to grow our family. We picked out vacation places we wanted to visit without children, and set out for adventure, figuring there would be plenty of road trips in our future with kids in the back seat. In May of 2015, Matthew proposed in the comfort of our own home, performing a song he wrote for me. We married just under a year later. Everything felt perfect.

Couple in black outfits standing outside house

As newlyweds, we were eager to grow our family, but month after month, nothing happened. Meanwhile, everyone around me was getting on with their second baby. It was devastating to watch my friends graduating into motherhood, while we were told by our OB to continue ‘practicing’ and only start to worry after one year.

I was worried something was wrong; I mean, nothing in my life ever went right.

When I was 18 years old, I immigrated to America from Russia. My mother had moved here when I was 14 in search of a better life. I had mixed feelings about moving— I was leaving all of my lifelong friends behind, but I was also escaping years of sexual abuse by my biological father. Now, I found myself in a country I knew very little about, trying to speak a language I did not understand. I was an outsider. So when I met Matthew, all I could dream of was growing our family to beyond just us two. I wanted loud and cheerful holidays at our house, something I never had growing up. I wanted to break generational dysfunction, that even coming from a family of abuse, I can be the one who loves.

In our struggle to bring home a baby, Matthew was optimistic and hopeful that everything would work out as it was supposed to. He trusted our doctor who recommended we come see her for intervention after 12 months of unprotected and timed intercourse. I wanted to go see a specialist, but I am a little impatient. A year came and went before we went back to see my OB—12 months of ovulation sticks and carefully timed sex (which was already starting to take some of the romance and excitement out of being newlyweds), 12 months of debating baby names while out walking our dog, 12 months of hope. Nothing. At the appointment, I cried from deep despair. What if I never have a baby? My doctor reassured me that more women go on to have babies than not. She prescribed Clomid, an estrogen modulator often used with fertility, and we set off to try again.

The next six months were brutal for both of us. Clomid was wreaking havoc on my hormones, making me wake up in the morning, and instead of picking up my cup of coffee, I’d pick a fight with Matthew about the way his hair laid. I started feeling inadequate about myself, our marriage, everything around me – this was the first time I asked Matt to leave me. We started to fight, sometimes a lot, but we always made up. We both knew it was the medication. And after six months, we finally saw two pink lines on the at home pregnancy test! IT was all worth it, we thought, until we discovered it was a chemical pregnancy (an early miscarriage). My doctor reassured me it was normal and said we should look at it as a big positive – we now knew I could get pregnant. It didn’t feel like a big positive. It felt devastating.

Meanwhile, everyone around me seemed to be getting pregnant. I attended baby showers, hosted baby showers (what was I thinking?), and was a frequent attendee to my friends’ kid’s birthday parties, all with a smile on my face. I was happy to watch my friends becoming mothers, but every month, my heart broke all over again.

We sought out a fertility specialist (a reproductive endocrinologist, or RE) and our initial conversation went very well. I liked her – she was thorough, and for once, did not dismiss any of my concerns. We scheduled a number of tests, often referred to as baseline: blood work, genetic screening, ultrasounds, and sonograms. But within weeks of going back to review our baseline results, we received a letter in the mail informing us that our RE was retiring in what seemed like days, and they provided only a few doctors they recommended.

I remember collapsing in the driveway when I read it, feeling as if this was a death sentence.

Going to a fertility specialist is daunting; the number of tests one needs to conduct is intense, and switching doctors was traumatizing. I felt like I was just dumped and could not even think of ‘dating’ someone else. We made an appointment with one of the recommended doctors, but nothing happens overnight in the fertility world. By the time we saw our new doctor, all of our baseline testing had to be redone, and we found ourselves starting over.

We live in Michigan where fertility coverage is uncommon, so we paid for everything out of pocket, and it added up quickly. We completed another round of baseline blood work and other testing. This time I was diagnosed with a uterine fibroid and Hashimoto’s disease. A fibroid, I was told, is common and many women have them and still have babies. However, Hashimoto’s was a little more concerning; it is an autoimmune disorder, very common in women with fertility issues. Hashimoto’s disease can be managed with medication, and in October of 2018, I was put on a small dosage of thyroid medication.

Three months later, two years after our last pregnancy, we had another positive test and were overjoyed. We went in for blood work and since my pregnancy hormones were rising appropriately, we celebrated. I was so happy, I even started our registry. But then, I started bleeding. At an emergency ultrasound appointment, we discovered there was no baby, just an empty sac. That Good Friday, it was confirmed I was having an ‘inevitable miscarriage’, and my doctor recommended either a D&C (a surgical procedure) or Misoprostol, a pill to take in the comfort of your own home. We chose the pill.

On Easter morning, I began miscarrying. It was the worst day, emotionally and physically. There was no resurrection or hope for our situation – just pain and confusion. Why was this happening to us? What did these results mean? What were we doing wrong?

Shortly after that, while at work (because there is no time off for babies that weren’t born), I started feeling excruciating pain in my abdomen and felt like I was going to pass out. While Matthew drove me to the hospital, I was wailing, and when we got there my pain was 15 out of 10. I was triaged and seen immediately. I had an infection brewing after the medically induced miscarriage. The hospital kept me overnight on a morphine drip. I slept and cried, cried and slept.

I do not remember much from the day we learned our sac was empty to our miscarriage, or my discharge from the hospital. But, one thing I do remember very vividly is the worry and pain in my husband’s eyes. It was then I realized how beautiful and precious our marriage was, how lucky we were to have one another, and how lucky I was to have Matthew by my side.

I was now 35 and no longer a newlywed, not that even being a newlywed was easy. Five months after our wedding day, Matthew’s mom died from breast cancer at the age of 56. She was an amazing mother and I am forever grateful to her for raising such an incredible man. It was a monumental loss for both of us and now the losses were really piling up. We decided to make another clinical switch because our second RE and I were not on the same page. I wasn’t getting any younger and I wanted an aggressive approach. I couldn’t take this any longer. It was all taking a huge toll on our marriage— we started fighting over the smallest things. I was pushing Matthew away because I knew I was the culprit of our infertility, and he needed to move on to someone who could make him a father – I sure could not. He was terribly sad and I was so angry with myself and my body for failing us over and over. Infertility became my identity. It consumed my every waking moment. If I could not become a mom, what else could I possibly be? I felt so inadequate and flawed. Why could everyone have babies and I couldn’t? Something must have been wrong with me.

And there was something wrong with me, the news of which would knock us off our feet soon.

We switched to a new doctor—the third time’s the charm, right? Or so we thought. He immediately wanted to start in on IVF, the most invasive of fertility treatments, and most costly. At our baseline appointment, he ordered an MRI for me, which diagnosed me with adenomyosis (a condition of the female reproductive system which causes the uterus to thicken and enlarge), but assured me many women with this condition go on to have healthy pregnancies and babies. So we tried. We were cleared to start and our IVF start date was April 27th, which was also Matthew’s mom’s birthday. It felt like it must be fate, but then COVID had other plans and delayed us to June. We focused on hope. After all, we never really thought we’d even have a chance to go down this path with IVF, and now that we were here, there was a feeling that this simply had to work. It made the daily injections, blood work, and ultrasounds seem easy.

I administered my own injections. They really weren’t that bad. I recorded every day to document our momentous path to parenthood. After 12 days of the medication stimulating my ovaries, we went into our egg retrieval, a surgical procedure where matured eggs are extracted from the ovaries. I had nine eggs retrieved, which isn’t the best, but considering the adenomyosis actually prevented the doctor from accessing my left ovary, we felt like it was still a pretty good result.

After that it seemed like we entered an endless cycle of waiting and disappointment. The day after our retrieval, our embryologist told us that all of our nine eggs had been fertilized, but it would take five days to know which would be fully viable for implantation. We lost six embryos in those first days, due to developmental issues, and then one more after genetic testing. Finally we had two healthy embryos and, we hoped, just one more agonizing wait ahead.

We transferred on August 14th, and based on the calculations, the baby’s due date would have fallen on Matthew’s mom’s birthday. There was so much hope as it once again felt like fate was reassuring us everything would be alright. During the two week wait, we celebrated Matthew’s birthday and all of the pregnancy symptoms I was feeling. Little did we know, progesterone and pregnancy share the same symptoms – nausea, fatigue, sleepiness, increased urination… Our beta (β-hCG, a pregnancy hormone) came back negative and we were absolutely gutted. We read the result on my laptop, held each other, and sobbed for an eternity. Matthew and I were actually grateful for the pandemic and it’s gift of isolation, as this allowed us to wrap each other in love and grieve our loss privately without needing any excuses why we cannot be part of society.

Couple drinking wine together
Courtesy of Anya Cason

We wanted to know what went wrong, what we could do differently. We asked so many questions and there weren’t any satisfying answers. We did our second transfer on December 10th and achieved the same result. Both our embryos were gone, we lost another year of our lives, tens of thousands of dollars, and we were back to square one. Christmas had been hard since Matthew’s mom passed. This year we just pretended it didn’t come at all. Everything was a blur.

On January 4th, I turned 37. I was depressed and angry when we inexplicably found out I was pregnant, naturally post-IVF riding that hormone wave. Our OB treated this pregnancy very differently— blood work every two days, and my beta levels were rising appropriately and ohhh were we excited, but very guarded. And then at about 5.5 weeks, I started spotting. NEVER a good sign. I went in for an ultrasound, and with Matthew listening on the phone from the car (COVID restrictions), the ultrasound tech was asking me questions like, ‘Are you sure you’re pregnant?’ ‘Did you have positive pregnancy tests or blood work?’ All I could do was shake my head for answers, yes or no, because I was trying so hard not to cry. I walked out of that ultrasound knowing this was not going to end well. Sunday morning I woke up with acute pain on my left side, it was pulsating and didn’t feel right. I called my OB, they said based on the last ultrasound they worry it may be ectopic. My beta levels keep increasing, but the ultrasound finds nothing in my uterus – it’s ectopic and I need surgery to remove the growing pregnancy, wherever it is, or it could kill me.

As I am getting prepared for surgery, and later recovering alone at the hospital due to COVID restrictions, I didn’t care about me. All I could think about was my poor, sweet, innocent husband. He is the fertile one, given a right partner, they’d have a family. I am the faulty one. They remove my ovary, as it appears to hold the growing tissue, but my beta levels keep rising. One surgery leads to another and eventually I have a hysterectomy. My uterus had no muscle tissue left, fully infected by adenomyosis. There was not enough healthy tissue for an embryo to latch onto and it was ten times the normal size. Five years after we first tried (and many more after we first dreamed about it), we were out of time and hope for a healthy pregnancy. After two lonely nights in the hospital, I came home to heal.

I know this was a long story to read. It felt a lot longer living it.

It hasn’t been all sunshine and roses since my last operation. Friends and family members fade away as they ‘don’t know what to say,’ and would likely rather not experience our pain vicariously. But it hasn’t been all doom and gloom either. I have my wonderful husband and our dogs. I’ve also found endless love and support from the Instagram infertility community—the friends I made when I created an account in December of 2020 after our final loss. Their gifts and flowers, kindness and love, acceptance and understanding— something so unexpected!

My first instinct was to figure out the next steps in our plan – full speed ahead to adoption or surrogacy! But then I took a step back and realized that for us, right now, that’s not the right path. Maybe someday that’ll change.

We were so focused on building a family that we forgot we are a family.

We have so much love for each other, and the family we do have. We are proud dog parents to two of our rescues, Violet Esther and Rocco. We are slowly exhausting our baby names list on other things we love: Violet’s middle name, Esther, was always top of my favorites, and Rocco was our top boy name. Maybe my next car or Matt’s next guitar will be named Matilda or Chiara… We kept these names secret for so long to not jinx anything. It feels so good to let them breathe.

Two dogs in scarfs sitting next to each other on grass
Courtesy of Anya Cason
Two dogs sitting side by side on trail
Courtesy of Anya Cason

I was ashamed of infertility. Because our society leads us to believe if you work hard enough on something, you would reap the benefits. But infertility proved that to be wrong. I hated my body. I was pushing my husband away, asking him to divorce me and find someone who could make him a dad. I drifted away from family and friends because I had nothing to say. I focused on work (at times way too much). I compulsively shopped. I was angry. I was hurt. I was alone. I was broken. I was grieving. I blamed things, occurrences, and people. I blamed God and the universe for beating me down and leaving me down!

I am infertile, but I am not broken or alone. I am whole, and I am learning to accept my body and myself. I am learning how common infertility is, and how I can be the voice of support for those who are still in the midst of treatment. I am learning to share my story vulnerably and openly, so another woman does not feel alone in her fight against infertility. I am eager to show the world that not every infertility story ends with a baby, and when it doesn’t, there is still love and hope for us all. Most importantly, we are learning to reignite that spark in our marriage and pour the love we have been holding on for a child into each other.

Couple taking selfie in rain coats in France
Courtesy of Anya Cason

If nothing else in my life goes right, I know for certain one thing did go right: I met Matthew. When I set out for a big family, what I really wanted was a house full of love. And that is what I have.”

Woman in green scarf and man in blue shirt sitting on top of mountain
Courtesy of Anya Cason

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Anya Cason of Detroit, MI. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and our Youtube for our best videos.

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