Becoming a parent is supposed to be an instinctive and natural process, a rite of passage for every woman willing to take that path, but that was not the path that I was destined to take.
There was so much I took for granted when my husband Marty and I first decided to start a family using In Vitro Fertilization (IVF). For starters, I just assumed that my body was in tip-top condition and that I would be a wonderful candidate for IVF. That multiple eggs would fertilize and I would have my instant family–voila! Yes, multiple eggs did fertilize and I did have my son and my daughter, but that was also four IVF cycles later, along with $60,000 cash (our down payment for our future home) and a multitude of setbacks and heart-wrenching emotional letdowns.
I knew at a young age that I would need to go the IVF route, but at that point in my life having children was not top of my list, so I never really gave it any serious thought. As women, we aren’t educated with any preventative care when it comes to our bodies and getting pregnant. Most gynecologists don’t tell us that as we get older, and especially after a certain age, the quality of our eggs begins to drop. Or that a relatively inexpensive test can check your FSH (Follicle Secreting Hormone) level to determine the exact quality of your eggs.
Needless to say, it was quite the eye opener when my first IVF experience went completely awry. For starters, my eggs were no longer top quality. I was 37 years old and trying to get pregnant for the first time. Secondly, I had no idea about the actual process; that is the retrieval process, then the three-day fertilization process, where you could lose more retrieved eggs. So on T-Day (transfer day), what started out as eight retrieved eggs turned into four fertilized eggs and then down to only one viable egg on actual day of transfer. Talk about deflated!
After the failed first attempt, I was faced with two more mind-numbing disappointments – but I was also faced with the reality of how I would handle an undesired final outcome and how that outcome would affect my marriage.
After the second disappointment, my husband told me that he married me for me, not to have kids. He went on to say that if we created a family, that would be great, but if we didn’t, our life together would still be great. That sounded great, for him. Not for me. First of all, I would have to carry the burden of never making his parents grandparents, which is what they couldn’t wait for, especially since all their friends had become grandparents already. Secondly, I couldn’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be a mother. Since I was 12 years old, I always wanted to be a mommy. Here’s the hard truth that no one talks about: if I didn’t become a mom, I wasn’t entirely certain my marriage would survive.
“After the second disappointment, my husband told me that he married me for me, not to have kids… That sounded great, for him. Not for me.”
By the third disappointment, my husband had very decidedly told me he was not open to adopting or using donor eggs. At that point, I was even more concerned about our marriage surviving because he, at that moment, robbed me of two viable options that would potentially make me a mommy. How could he do this to me, I thought? More importantly, how would we survive if this last cycle didn’t work and he just took away my right, my dream of becoming a mother?
This is just one of the very real emotions swirling around my head that no one talks about. Now, my husband through all of this was extremely supportive, but he was also very aware of how helpless he really was in this situation. As he mentioned time and time again, I was really the one doing all the "heavy lifting" through this process. After all, I was subjecting my body to drugs and shots, having my blood continually withdrawn and being prodded and poked weekly. He felt helpless and at times hopeless, but I needed him to be strong and forge ahead because I couldn’t get both myself and him through this. He did just that for me and we got through it.
Even though we were together at the appointments and he would give me my progesterone shots in my backside, we were really on two separate journeys and its okay to say that out loud because there is no way the IVF journey can be shared equally by a man and a woman. If there are multiple IVF attempts involved, the level of obsession the woman experiences can be difficult for anyone to wrap their head around. Getting pregnant and the entire IVF process becomes all we think, eat, drink, feel and breathe. So, the couple, although together are walking very separately on this path to creating a family; and that is normal, and should not be judged.
We very silently, but with steely determination walked our paths and on March 9th, 2009 we introduced Sophia and Michael into the world.
Looking back, what I learned from this experience that I want to pass on to all couples that are about to begin the same journey is to first of all choose who you share what information with; if you are looking for a sympathetic ear, choose that person carefully. Also, everyone will have opinions, do your best to smile and nod and take everything with a grain of salt. Remember, no one knows this journey better than you and your spouse.
Now, when it comes down to you and partner, and this is the most important piece of advice, he will not understand what you are going through and he will feel helpless. Let him know that is okay and that the emotions you two will be experiencing will be very different and should not be judged by either of you. Just love each other and support each other. You may not understand the way your partner processes their emotions and you don’t have to, you just have to respect each other. Good luck and love and light to each of you!
Jennifer Prudenti is an entrepreneur whose passion lies in helping people, particularly women. Her new memoir, "One Mother’s Journey: Creating My Family Through In Vitro Fertilization," is available at Amazon and other online retailers. She lives in Albertson, N.Y., with her husband, Marty, their children, Sophia and Michael, and the family cats, Smudgie and Sabrina. She is a mother, daughter, wife, friend and coworker. She is just like you, and her story could be anyone's.