PART ONE: Try, Try, Try
Looking back over my 36ish years here on earth, my biggest challenge in life wasn’t what we went through with the plane crash and its crazy aftermath or even getting diagnosed with cancer. I can still say without a doubt the biggest challenge was making a family. 12 years. 12 years we tried one way or another to build a family together. It’s been where I’ve had my lowest moments in life. Where I made the worst choices and became the worst version of myself. I truly had no hope. Sean and I should never have tried to get pregnant after my dad died. We started soon after the funeral because, sure we wanted kids, but we also just wanted to focus on something else. We wanted to be happy.
Here’s some handy advice: One should never try to have a baby to be happy. It may not work out the way you think and then your sadness compounds daily. We heaped pain upon loss with our plan to get pregnant in an effort to move on with our what was left of our lives after my dad died and my family fell apart.
Talking about infertility is hard—as if somehow, it’s our fault or we’re doing something wrong. Opinions abound. And they’re all so judgy. And I hate being judged. Being a married couple without children, that happens a lot. All. The. Time. By everyone—friends, family, co-workers, strangers. (Like the guy in line behind me at the water park who questioned why we were there without kids. Everyone’s a critic.) Thankfully, I round file a lot of the comments and opinions.
When I look back on the years our journey to building our own family meandered a bit. I think about that poem by Robert Frost.
“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and sorry I could not travel both and be one traveler, long I stood. And both that morning equally lay in leaves no step had trodden black. Ohm I marked the first for another day! Yet knowing how way leads on to way I doubted if I should ever come back. Two roads diverged in a wood, and I; I took the one less traveled, and that has made all the difference.”
The only problem was I had no desire to travel the unbeaten path. I did not want to take the road less traveled. In fact, I spent years (YEARS!) desperately trying to stay on the same road others traveled. I like the predictability and safety of the crowd. When I was a kid, I desired nothing more than to fit in. I was shy and was my happiest when reading a book by myself. I had friends and with them I could be myself but, in general, I did not want to be special or stand out from my peers. I strived for routine. I followed the rules growing up. I never snuck out or overtly rebelled. As I grew into adulthood, that desire persisted. My goals in life were to live the life most people lived. I wanted to date, get married, make babies and settle down with a family and in a career. Imagine my dismay and frustration in finding God had sent Sean and me down an unexpected path. Thus, I struggled. Sean struggled. We both did. But his way of handling the disappointment of plans gone awry were more internal. Less loud. He had a better perspective on it all. He could keep a clear head when I had moments where I totally fell apart. I did not take Squirt’s and Buttercup’s sage advice of, “You get what you get, and you don’t throw a fit.”
When I think of the weed-filled, untrodden path we took to make a family I tend to divide our years into the no kids, some kids and our kids time. For most married couples, the time of no kids is short. So short, in fact, they call it “before kids”. “Before kids, we did this. Or that.” They’d say, blissfully unaware of what life looks like when a plan doesn’t work out. To those who followed the path most-traveled, they were able to proceed with delightful abandon. That’s the way it happens for most families. When it came to making a family Sean and I started off the traditional way/path too. You make the family yourself. You have babies. They grow. Become small people. You parent them-protecting and guiding them along until they can vote. Wah-la! A family. We spent over a year trying to get pregnant naturally. Enjoyable to be sure, but no luck. We finally saw a fertility specialist in Anchorage who ran a bunch of tests-found nothing wrong- but he put me on drugs to boost fertility and ramp up egg production. Still didn’t work.
Our doctor finally suggested Sean go get checked out. He did and turns out he can’t make the babies. This came as a huge shock. All this time, we thought it was me. The doctor said they had no explanation for it and so sorry, there was nothing they could do. Worse shock. Let me pause right there to tell you I asked Sean’s permission to share this part. People always assume it’s the woman who can’t make babies (our fertility doctor included). Modern medicine is not geared towards helping male infertility like it is for women. There aren’t many options if you have no swimmers. There aren’t many male fertility specialists, in general, and zilch if a man is straight up infertile. At the time, there were none in Alaska. There were no counseling or support groups either.
It’s a private pain causing deep wounds. Sean actually told me to divorce him when we found this out. He said he would rather be maimed in battle or die than not be able to give me the thing I want most-a pregnancy. Valiant to be sure, but not the thing I want most. I, repeatedly, reassured him I wanted him more than some potential pregnancy. I will be with him even when children grow up and are gone. I am his helpmate. I am here for him. As he is for me. To throw him over for some pregnancy is not the way I do things. That would be incredibly selfish of me.
We considered different options at this point including getting a sperm donor. (Let me tell you what’s gross—8 of my co-workers offered to help make the babies. One even said we could do it at work, in the extra closet down the hall. Disgusting.) We decided against getting a sperm donor because the primary desire was not to get pregnant. It was to make a family together. For us, having Sean excluded from the initial process sets a weird tone for the future and could lead to potential conflicts. Every time we discuss this what comes to mind is Abraham and Sarah in Genesis. They couldn’t have children so a third person, Hagar, got invited to join Abraham’s and Sarah’s family-making process. To this day, the generational offspring of that love-triangle are in conflict; not to mention the immediate consequences for Hagar and her son, Ishmael. They got kicked out of their home. I’m not comparing Sean and myself to the ancestors of the Israelites, but I do view their situation as a cautionary tale. For us, having a third person involved in the process complicated things beyond what we wanted for our lives. For some, this is a beautiful way to go. It’s a great way to start a family. It’s just not for us.
Through a friend and a television show called Baby Lab, we found a clinic in St. Louis, Missouri that specializes in male infertility.
Only one like it in the United States at the time. So, in August of 2009, we packed up and moved to Little Rock, Arkansas to be close to the clinic. Their process takes a minimum of 3 months and a start-up of $11,000. A revolutionary procedure is first done on Sean in which they go into the testes and find any potential swimmers and then in the lab my harvested eggs and his sperm are combined. Then after a set amount of time they implant the eggs and hope any or all will make it. It’s baby making-science style. There’s a chance with the process that you could end up with twins, triplets or more. We were excited and nervous at the possibility of having multiple children all at once but ready to take on the challenge. I watched a lot of Jon and Kate plus 8 to prepare myself. Hmm, how to say this? It’s an odd show but with a good point--having that many kids doesn’t break up your marriage. Your disrespectful treatment of each other causes marriage ruination.
We were going to use the money from the sale of our house in Alaska to fund the lab-baby process, but the Great Recession finally caught up with Anchorage. It took FOR…EV…ER….to sell the house. The longer we waited the more frustrated I got. We had a plan for our lives, and I was fairly certain God was approving of it. I looked at things like how we ended up Little Rock and thought God was giving us exactly what we were praying for--finally! I took verses like “Take delight in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart“ Psalm 37:4 then left out the first part and just focused on the second. I repeatedly told God what I wanted and then expected He had to give it to me based on this verse.
I think I whined more than prayed for a long time. I pray whined (prined?) and when that didn’t work, I got mad at God. I still couldn’t stomach going to church. Lack of delighting myself in the Lord led to alternating between very angry and super depressed every time there was a kink in the plan. On the worst days, I actually considered taking my life. Nothing Sean or anyone else said or did could change that perspective. I lived a completely hopeless, completely happy-less life. More on that later but for now let’s just say that first year and a half after we left Alaska was not pretty. Not only were we not able to sell our house right away, we moved 8 times and I had to change jobs six times. (Crazy circumstances kept pulling us away, but I was desperate to get to St. Louis and that baby-making lab.) Sean also couldn’t find work either. He must have applied for more than a hundred jobs and was considering going to Saudi Arabia for work by the time he got hired in Corpus Christi, TX. We went from one end of the map to the other and landed in bottom of Texas.
We were finally able to sell the Anchorage house six months after we put it on the market. We only made $50.00 when all was said and done. Fifty bucks. Way less than we needed for lab made-babies. Way less than even a fancy dinner. We know because that’s how we ultimately spent the money. We took ourselves out to dinner. We needed to reevaluate. It looked like making babies really wasn’t possible for us. God was shutting that door. Heck, He didn’t just shut that door, He nailed it shut. Build a family was still on the table but we would just do it differently than we always thought we would. We could still have children– hang out with them-protecting and guiding them along until they grown up. We would just do it by loving kids already alive. Kids who wanted and needed a home. We would adopt.