One in six couples are affected by infertility. My ex-husband and I were one of them.

Tara Blair Ball
Photo by Eric Rothermel on Unsplash

It took my ex-husband and I two years and three months to get pregnant.

2 years and 3 months. 27 months. 821 days. To get pregnant ONCE.

That’s the time it took, but that doesn’t include how I changed my diet multiple times, hoping eliminating caffeine or dairy or sugar or soy or gluten would be that magic fix. How at one point I was eating my dinner for breakfast in the hopes that would somehow help with my blood sugar issues, which meant I was eating pot roast and carrots at five in the morning.

How I spent hundreds of dollars on pregnancy tests, ovulation tests, and special supplements and vitamins promising increased fertility.

How I learned that I had endometriosis, a condition where the endometrial tissue that was supposed to remain in my uterus was actually growing in my abdomen. How I had to have a laparoscopic surgery to remove it, and after this surgery, the doctor told me that the endometrial tissue had glued my uterus to my spine, my ovaries to the top of my uterus, wrapped my bowels, and even gotten on the underside of my kidneys.

How I got diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, an incurable hereditary hormonal condition that meant I was at heightened risk of infertility and miscarriage.

Listing that time, all two years and three months of it, certainly doesn’t include how my ex-husband and I tried to have a baby until it was without any sort of intimacy or pleasure, until I was holding his dick just long enough to make it hard and then climbing on top of him, until sex became as banal or humdrum as brushing my teeth. Until it became a goddamn chore.

And it definitely doesn’t make clear what it was like being on fertility drugs.

How when I took four rounds of Clomid, a fertility drug that stimulates the ovaries to produce a follicle or multiple follicles to produce an egg or eggs with the potential to be fertilized, I got hot flashes that would wake me up throughout the night, along with Clomid-induced rages. How I threw things, screamed, sobbed hysterically.

How my ex-husband still says,“I think I have PTSD from dealing with you at that time.” And I have to nod and agree because it was bad. Truly.

Or the procedures. Like when my ex-husband jerked off into a cup in a room with a small television set, a modest collection of pornography, and wicker furniture in our fertility clinic’s office. He did it standing up, he told me later, so he didn’t have to touch anything. His sperm was then “washed” to separate the semen from the seminal fluid, and then I, laying on a table with my feet in stirrups, was “inseminated” by a catheter held in the gloved hands of my doctor in a procedure called IUI (IntraUterine Insemination) that would give us our twenty-first negative pregnancy test.

Then, how with not ever having even one positive pregnancy test in twenty-one months, we would ask our fertility doctor, “Should we do another IUI? What should we do?”

And she would say, “I think you should do IVF.”

And we would agree to do it.

How over a four month period, I would have another laparoscopic surgery, take multiple pills and over seventy suppositories, and receive eighty-seven shots in my abdomen and butt, all to get pregnant ONCE.

And certainly stating that it took “just” 821 days to get pregnant once doesn’t convey the crap-show circus that was my mind on a daily basis: of coming off the low of another failed cycle, to being certain THIS would be the month, to the 80 million Google searches and supplement pounding and hips-up timed sex, and all the other insane attempts at control, to then being certain it had happened and being excited about cribs and tiny tiny shoes, to then sobbing in the bathroom for days once I inevitably had my period.

The putting on of weight, the losing of weight. How much I failed to accept my body and its limitations. How much I raged that my body wasn’t doing what I wanted it to do. How my hair fell out because of stress. How I couldn’t sleep or look at myself in the mirror. How, instead of happiness for my friends who fell pregnant, I felt only self-centered rage and grief.

One in six couples are affected by infertility.

My ex-husband and I were one of those couples. I won’t say that infertility is the reason we got divorced (because there were plenty of other reasons, as outlined starting here), but couples who experience infertility are three times more likely to do so.

And I, myself, read plenty of articles on how to survive infertility while I was in the middle of it. But I put nothing into practice because I was going to get pregnant anytime now. THIS was going to be the month! I assured myself every time.

And the thing is, once I got pregnant, I was alone and frightened and all of my relationships were in tatters. My marriage was a wreck because I’d put having a baby above nurturing a solid relationship with my partner (and of course, there were some catastrophic issues I was avoiding with my partner too), and I’d pushed most of my friends away, especially the ones who’d gotten pregnant after I’d begun trying.

So what I’ll tell you is that misery is optional.

I chose to be miserable. I chose to suffer. I chose to live in self-pity. I chose to slowly give up everything I once loved doing until my worldview, my very view of success and joy, was whittled down to just getting pregnant. If I got pregnant, I would be happy. If I got pregnant, I would be successful. And because that was my whole worldview, I suffered.

So here’s a list of things I recommend you do if you don’t want to be a walking basket case (aka “if you don’t want to pull a me”):

  1. Journal.

I wrote a private blog while I was going through all of my infertility bullshit. It helped me get my thoughts out of my head, even the awful ones like, “WHY IS THAT 12 YEAR OLD NEXT DOOR PREGNANT WHEN I’VE GOT A HUSBAND AND A HOUSE AND A CAREER???”

2. See a therapist.

I chose to not see one until I was pregnant, and then I was having to do a lot of back work to process all of the terrible-awful that was those two years and three months. My ex-husband and I also had to get into couples at the same time to process the same stuff together. Seek out a good one as early as you can. Know it’s going to be hard. Know that you’re going to need help.

3. Seek out support groups.

Find friends who have been through this before and can have your back, or seek out in-person or online support groups for women dealing with infertility.

4. Lean on your partner.

I felt really really alone while I was facing infertility. My ex-husband really believed we should just have sex whenever we wanted without protection and that it was going to happen when it was meant to happen. I didn’t feel like I could share with him all of my insane thoughts because he thought they were just that…insane.

My ex-husband was not someone I felt like I could lean on, and infertility WILL exacerbate any problem you already have in your marriage. I should have realized at the time that our relationship wouldn’t survive the long-run just based on how alone I felt during that time.

So make sure you share honestly with your spouse. Make sure you lean on your spouse, AND that he or she is capable of meeting your needs. See a couples therapist about this if you aren’t getting what you need.

5. Practice self-care.

Buy yourself a nice pair of socks. Take bubble baths. Go for solitary bike rides. Drink a good latte or beer when you know a cycle failed. Get massages. Meditate. Watch comedies. Don’t let your world narrow until you are only defined by what your reproductive bits are or are not doing.

6. Imagine alternatives.

The best thing my ex-husband and I did is re-imagine our lives. We were about to begin the process of IVF, and we had already decided that it was the last thing we would try. We knew we couldn’t emotionally handle the roller coaster of adoption, so we sat down and worked out an entirely NEW life if IVF didn’t work and we chose to be child-free.

I’m a teacher, and we lived in a very family-friendly suburb. We talked about me changing careers, moving to a big city, traveling a lot. We imagined a life FULL instead of EMPTY, and that helped me a lot. I needed to know there was a life out there for me where I could define success as not just about having a child.

Misery is optional. I can’t say that enough.

Do what you can to not suffer. Be proactive. Develop a biting sense of humor. Buy a foot bath. Watch Disney movies. Log how you have been eating so much fertility-boosting kale that your poop is constantly green and how annoyed you are with your pregnant friend Bonnie. Dance. Be active. Survive and maybe just thrive too. You’ll make it through, and you’ll be stronger. Yeah, you will.

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Memphis, TN

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