‘You’re running out of time.’ I was 16, infertile and robbed of my childhood.’: After 17 years of endometriosis, infertility, couple adopts two children from China, ‘at that moment, I became a mom’

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“I was 12 when my first hint of infertility revealed its ugly face. I was thrown into womanhood with intense pain and heavy bleeding. What was happening to me? I struggled for 11 miserable days.  Surely, it wouldn’t always be this way. It would be easier next time. I was a cheerleader, I played softball, and I could barely get out of bed. I was 12. 

I entered my teen years with periods that lasted over two weeks. The pain would leave me doubled over. I would pass out, and often vomit. I would wear two pads to protect my clothing. I’d sleep on towels at night to keep my bed clean. I’d sit on the edge of my pool while my friends swam. Two weeks a month, I was robbed of my childhood.

As a kid, I remember my mom telling me stories about her difficult periods.  She described the things I was experiencing. She was never officially diagnosed but her doctor believed she had endometriosis. My parents tried for many years to have a second baby. Finally, nine years after my sister was born, I arrived. 

I was your typical teen girl who had dreams of getting married and having a family. My parents had their marital differences, eventually divorcing, but this did not affect my attitude or feelings towards marriage and family. Throughout their struggles, they made sure my sister and I knew love. When I was 15 years old, I met the guy I’d eventually marry.  

Courtesy of Nichole Martus

I met Brian through mutual friends. Unfortunately, I wasn’t allowed to date. After some pleading, my parents agreed to a group date. We hit it off right away, spending the following months talking on the phone while going on occasional dates. Attending different high schools, we didn’t see each other much but a sweet relationship began to grow. We fell in love. When my parents were struggling, he was my rock. He was always my constant.  My parents fell in love with him too, allowing me to see him weekly.     

When those two weeks a month would hit, he would rub my back, place a heating pad on my stomach, and bring me vanilla shakes with chocolate sprinkles to cheer me up. He took care of me while trying to understand what I was going through.  My mom would say, ‘I know you love him, but you’re young. It’s not like you’re going to marry him someday.’ Somehow, we knew early on we’d always be together.

At 16, my periods were unbearable. Feeling hopeless, I asked my mom if I could see a gynecologist.  My first visit was a gut punch. It was a cloudy, cold, Thursday morning with the slightest drizzle falling from the sky. I remember every detail of the gray-colored room where I learned my fate. I remember staring mindlessly out the window when the doctor walked into the room. She said words like ‘endometriosis’ and ‘polycystic ovarian syndrome.’ She said, ‘You are quickly running out of time to have children.’

I was sixteen and infertile. I was gutted. How could this be happening? She explained, If you were an adult, I would recommend you get pregnant immediately.’ Since that wasn’t an option, she prescribed birth control as a way to control the endometriosis. It wasn’t an official diagnosis, as I didn’t have surgery but she was confident in her findings. I was devastated. Would I ever have children? I had to tell Brian. Why would he want to waste his time with someone who couldn’t give him children someday? Was I about to lose him too? 

Brian, being Brian, took it in stride.We’ll figure it out someday,’ he’d say.Maybe she’s wrong.’

The birth control pills made my periods more bearable. ‘Maybe she was wrong, maybe I will be okay.’ The years passed quickly with both of us graduating high school and getting jobs. We were growing up. We pushed my doctor’s diagnosis to the back of our minds. We hit our rough patches but we always ended up together. In November of 1996, he asked me to marry him.

We spent the next two years planning our perfect wedding. On a crisp, October day in New England, we said I do. Our reception was held at a beautiful country club, surrounded by trees with pops of red, orange, and yellow leaves. We celebrated with a ridiculously large wedding party and simply enjoyed our day. Those two kids were now grown up and were ready to take on life together. 

Courtesy of Nichole Martus

For our one year anniversary, we rented a little cabin in the New Hampshire Mountains. I spent some of our trip lying in bed in miserable pain. It seemed as if the birth control pills stopped working. We eventually took a hike in the mountains that led us to a waterfall.  As we stood by the cool, falling water, we decided we wanted to start a family, as if it was that simple. It was the beginning of a 13-year journey to parenthood. 

Two weeks later, I experienced severe abdominal pain. I didn’t have my period — where was it coming from? The pain lasted for the next 12 years. In the summer of 2000, I had surgery. Finally, I’d have a diagnosis. When I awoke in the recovery room, I nervously asked what the doctor had found. As the words ‘stage 4 endometriosis’ left the nurse’s lips, I began to sob uncontrollably.  I was again infertile, now at 24 years old. I cried over and over. ‘I just want to have a baby,’ I cried. I’ll never forget the poor nurse’s face as she tried to console me. Would I ever be a mom?

Courtesy of Nichole Martus

My doctor suggested we try fertility medications. I was hopeless and willing to try anything. He uttered the same words I heard seven years prior, ‘You are running out of time.’ I hated those words. After three failed months on Clomid, I requested a referral to a Reproductive Endocrinologist. I felt like a failure. I felt like I was ruining Brian’s life. Why would he want to say with me? It was the darkest I’d ever felt.  

Our first doctor was a straight forward, no sugar coating, bow tie-wearing guy, with little bedside manner. There was something about him I despised. Was it him, or maybe it was the fact that my body was failing me, forcing me to sit in his office. He suggested we start with IUI treatments. I’d agree to anything if he could get me pregnant. Six months and three failed IUI cycles later, I was left with nothing but ovarian cysts.

After each failed cycle, I’d pack a suitcase so we could run away. I didn’t care where we went. I wanted to run from the phone calls trying to comfort us through our sadness. I was tired of being pitied. I was tired of being a failure. I wanted to run away from what our life had become. We had no control over what was happening. We were victims of my broken, miserable, useless uterus.

Our second year of infertility treatments left me broken, emotionally and mentally. Our friends were beginning to start their families. As I lay on the cold bathroom floor, sick from IVF medications, a friend called to share the news she was pregnant. Through fake joy, I congratulated her. They always called me first. I was happy for the ladies in my life, but my heart sank with each call. I didn’t want their babies, I wanted MY baby. When they shared stories of pregnancy or childbirth, I couldn’t contribute. I had nothing to share. I never knew I could feel so isolated.  

I was hopeful but cautious with my heart when we made the move to IVF. I responded extremely well to the drugs, retrieving 24 beautiful eggs. Finally, my body did something right. I looked forward to our daily updates on how our little embryos were growing. They were the beginning of the little humans we created. I imagined the life we’d have together. They were a part of us. We transferred two perfect embryos. This HAD to work. I was scheduled for a pregnancy test, but nine short days after transfer, I was bleeding severely. It was a crushing blow. We were both heartbroken and needed a mental break before we could move forward. We needed to grieve the loss of our two perfect embryos. 

After a great deal of self-blame, I found a great new doctor who required me to have surgery to remove large fibroids before we could move forward. During my recovery, I began to research adoption. We were immediately drawn to international adoption. We were crushed to learn the minimum age for adoptive parents was 30 years old. We were in our mid-twenties. Adoption would need to wait. 

Our second IVF cycle failed, exactly like our first. In September of 2002, we completed our third and final IVF cycle. We knew if this failed, we were done. We couldn’t travel this road any longer. The cycle and embryo transfer were perfect. Again, this had to work! That September, my sister went into labor with her first child. I wasn’t sad. I only felt joy for my big sister. Finally, she called, ‘He’s here!’ I hung up the phone and visited the bathroom. I looked down to see nothing but blood. My nephew entered the world as our final IVF failed. I’d never carry a child. I’d never experience pregnancy or give birth. How could this happen at this moment? How could this happen on the day my nephew was born?  

I told myself, you will NOT grieve today. This is a day of joy. So I waited. The following day, I fell apart. I failed, it was over. I was broken, devastated, and numb. The pain was immeasurable. It would be another four years before we were eligible to adopt. We refused an offer of surrogacy from a friend. Adoption didn’t feel like a second choice. We didn’t need a biological child, we needed a family. 

In 2006, we sent our adoption dossier to China. Our expected wait for a match was one year. Yet again, life had other plans. Our one year wait turned into six excruciating years. How could this be happening again? We detached ourselves from our adoption as a way to survive. We feared we’d never be matched with a child. We lived life, we traveled, and I graduated from college. 

Towards the end of our adoption wait, I decided it was time for a hysterectomy. I needed to end years of pain. As a childless woman, I feared I would fall into a dark place after surgery. Amazing myself, I stayed strong. I was pain-free for the first time in 12 years. I was about to become a mom. On July 30, 2012, we received the call we had waited so long for. We were parents.

Courtesy of Nichole Martus

We took turns speaking to our agency representatives as we could barely breathe. We opened an email containing a photo of the most beautiful baby girl we’d ever laid eyes on.  We were staring at our 6-month-old daughter. This was actually happening! We submitted more paperwork while waiting for travel approval. Four long months later, we flew to China. I loved our daughter before I knew her but I was also terrified. Could I be the mom she deserved? 

In a hot hotel room, 13 years after we decided to start a family, our doorbell rang. She was here. As the door opened, I saw our girl, dressed in yellow, tears rolling down her bright red face. A calmness came over me. At that moment, I became a mom, and she needed me. Brian held her as I stared at her face in awe. In a breathless moment, she leaned in and kissed my cheek. Tears flooded down my face as years of emotional pain disappeared. At that moment, she saved me. What did I do to deserve this precious gift?

Courtesy of Nichole Martus
Courtesy of Nichole Martus

Ava was the sweetest baby; she was our dream come true. While we waited for her, our friends and family waited for her. She was loved by so many. We wondered, was this the end for us? Would we be a family of three? The answer was clear to us both.  

In 2016, exactly four years later, we boarded a plane back to China. As we anxiously waited in a large room filled with other families, we caught a glimpse of our boy, our son. His nanny placed him into my arms, where he melted into me. We had an 18-month-old son and he was perfect. At that moment, I was once again thankful for all we went through. Had we not struggled for so many years, we may have missed this. Our long, tumultuous road led us to our beautiful babies. For years, I wondered if I’d ever be a mom. Here I stood, a blessed mom of two. Tears fell down my face as we stared at our scared little man.

Courtesy of Nichole Martus
Courtesy of Nichole Martus

As the years have flown by, our past is nothing but a memory. Our long journey is something we barely think about now. We spend our days busy with homeschooling, dance classes, baseball in the park, and Lego building. Brian and I survived 17 years of infertility treatments, surgeries, and adoption waiting together. We fought together, we carried each other, and we fell in love with our beautiful children. Our hearts have healed and our lives have become more amazing than anything we could’ve imagined. Our life is nothing like what we planned as kids. It’s better.”  

Laureen Burke Photography
Courtesy of Nichole Martus
Courtesy of Nichole Martus
Courtesy of Nichole Martus

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Nichole Martus of Jacksonville, Florida. You can follow her journey on her website. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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