Of Birds and Bees

We all bring a set of issues to the table of grief, whether it be a side-dish of marital problems, a salad of anxiety, or an appetizer laced with previous tragedies which this seems to compound. There's the bottle of money woes, the dash of low-esteem, and perhaps even (hidden under the napkin) the telltale odor of previous bouts with depression. All of these shade and color our experience, and shift our individual abilities to cope with babyloss. I'm not here to rate which are at least edible, and which could stand to be thrown into the compost, but I am going to discuss one particular problem many bring to the table and set down with a thunk, with the grace of an overcooked, 25 pound stuffed turkey.

That would be infertility.

Babyloss after -- during -- infertility is it's own peculiar injustice. For starts, infertility in and of itself can create it's own side excursions into mental trauma. As one avid reader here said to me in person recently, infertility is its own kind of grief.  For starts, what comes naturally in the pickle commercials and to your friends who seem to just look at each other naked and procreate, for you is not meant to be.  Frankly, that alone deserves some mourning.  There's the monthly reminder of failure, which you try hard not to internalize, but it's hard to go through more than a year without getting a bit mopey about overall body image and capabilities. Add to this the strain on marriage, which you try and avoid by making sex fun! And unto itself! But seriously, you're both eyeballing the calendar and know and wonder when it will be fun again, and secretly debate who exactly is letting whom down. Meanwhile all of your friends are pregnant and having babies and wondering what in hell you're waiting for? Time's a ticking! You go to your thousandth baby shower with a stiff upper lip and cry on the way home.

You finally go to an RE (that's Reproductive Endocrinologist) who runs you through a pantheon of testing. If you're lucky, you've climbed online and read up on this stuff so you're prepared for the discomfort of mulitple blood draws on various days of the month, watching radioactive dye run through your fallopian tubes, or having your uterus filled with liquid and monitored via ultrasound, or an uncomfortable uterine biopsy. There's the indignity of going in on day two of your menstrual cycle for a vaginal ultrasound to check the status of your ovaries, and the ever-popular post-coital testing where you run into the office when you should be lounging naked with a glass of something and a cig, and have them take a sample of everything that you didn't leave on the mattress to see if sperm can indeed make it through the secretions that you produce. And don't get me started on the discussion with your husband, which starts with "Honey, I really want to have a baby" and ends with "And so you need to go into the office where they'll hand you a jar. If you're lucky, this office may even have some inspirational magazines for you as well."

And that's just to get a diagnosis. If there is one to be found. Like so many things medical, after all of this, the answer is often "unknown."

Because now we know, maybe, or at least have an idea, there might be surgery to rid of endometriosis or fibroids or a blocked tube. Or IUI (Intra-Uterine Insemination -- you know, the old fashioned way, except with a turkey baster). Or if your husband presents a problem in the equation, IVF with ICSI (Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection. Say that 10 times fast). Drugs are dispensed, often to yourself with syringes and detailed instructions on what needs done intramuscularly. Sometimes you skip right to IVF (In Vitro Fertilization), and sometimes there's a mind-blowing discussion about dead or absent sperm or a lack of eggs or a misshapen uterus that ends with the RE telling you about gamete donors and/or surrogates. Sometimes there's the unexpected surprise that all of these miscarriages you've been having are caused by a genetic problem carried by you or your spouse. Sometimes there's simply a vial of pills, sometimes there's the fluke of luck while waiting for the next round of shots to start, and sometimes there's the hellish conclusion that this will not end the way you intended when you walked in.

I should pause here and remind people who are staring at this jumble of acronyms and procedures like hieroglyphics that much of this testing and prodding and medicating and inseminating is not covered by insurance. Unless you're lucky enough to live in a small handful of states (or countries) that have rightly deemed infertility a medical problem necessitating treatment and hence coverage (and you're lucky to have insurance to begin with!), you're paying for this out of pocket. According to Resolve, the average IUI runs $865, depending on the medication needed; IVF's average (that's average) $8,150K, NOT including medication (which runs, on average, an additional $3,000-5,000). (For the record, I just used some banal progesterone, apparently necessary to keep embryos attached to my uterus but not covered by my insurance. The cost per 4 weeks of a daily single dose was $800, and I needed 8 weeks. And I consider myself lucky that's all I needed this time around.)

I know people who took out second mortgages for ART (Assisted Reproductive Technology), and people who used inheritances, and people who drew out of their retirement accounts and/or borrowed from family. All to achieve what many can do after turning off the late night news and climbing under the covers.

But let's say you get lucky, and get pregnant.

Worth it, right?

And now let's say your baby dies.


Back up for a moment to what this reader said to me: Infertility is it's own kind of grief. It's a monthly dash of hopes, a monthly reminder of promises gone down the drain, often with the checking account. It's the thought when an embryo is tucked safely inside you that this is it! This is life! This is our life.  This blob will be my child! Only to be greeted by one line and blinding white two weeks later. Multiply this over, and over again. Possibly for years. Possibly having set your limit -- your emotional and financial finish line on the next attempt: this one is the last one. This one works, or we grieve never having children of our own, and move on to something else. Hope and faith and trust and marital communication may have left the building long before the death of a baby. You may have been desperate, on that last attempt, bargaining, wondering if anything would work.

In that regard, the death of a baby is part of this winding vine already invading your life. It's another loss, another dash of hopes, but this time on a much larger scale because . . . well obviously, it's different to hold a dead child than to stare at a negative pregnancy test, but there's also the thought that That might have been it.

Because you can't simply wake up one morning and say, Let's try again. As hard as that discussion is to have another baby after the death of the last, if you're infertile it's more complicated. There isn't the subconscious knowledge that Well of course this will work again like it's supposed to.  You need to pick up the phone and explain to people what happened, and what you'd like to do next. You need to go through a lot of the rigamrole again. You may need to alter how many embryos you transfer, or depending on why your child died, move to gamete donation or surrogacy. Perhaps you need to now fork out for PGD (Pre Implantation Genetic Diagnosis) (Incidentally, another average of $3,500 on top of your IVF expenses) to make sure any genetic problems aren't being passed along. You need to set to set a new limit, a new finish line, and further deplete your bank account. And each month that passes with an HCG (Human Chorionic Gonadtropin) test of two or less, you sink further into a bleak place. Perhaps that child was it. The only time this would work.

And sometimes, that is it. There are people here in this community, who read here, who reached the end. The end of the line. The money tree dried up, their emotions were frayed after years of trying and failure, and they needed to stop and move on. Move on with another life than the one they originally envisioned when they simply set out to have a baby of their own making. And that, putting behind not only a dead child but the attempt to have another of your own, is it's own crucible of grief. Inextricably wound up with the death of a baby that we're all familiar with, but branching out and encircling so many other parts of your conscious and marriage and identity and being. And like any loss, this deserves its own moment of grief, too.

Did you seek Infertility treatments in order to get pregnant with your child(ren)? Are you having to with a subsequent child? For you, how does your babyloss fit in with infertility -- does it stand alone, or has it become a chapter or branch within a greater struggle? Do you have limits? Have you met them already?