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An Academic’s Journey with Infertility

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I stared down at that white stick with its single pink line: not pregnant. I set it down next to the other white stick with its digital read out that said: not pregnant. 

This wasn’t the first time I saw that single pink line. It was one in a litany of single pink lines. Not pregnant. Too numerous to count. 

A sample of what we saw each month.

What wasn’t I doing right? I bought the fertility tests. I stopped drinking alcohol (mostly). I charted my periods. I saw a specialist. No one could answer my question: why can’t I get pregnant?

I thought back to the early years of my PhD. Everyone’s advice was clear and simple: wait until you’ve graduated to have a baby. Since I was only 23, I wasn’t too concerned. Surely waiting until I was 28 or 29 wouldn’t be the worst idea. Lots of people I knew had waited until their late twenties to conceive. So I waited.

And I waited.

And I waited. 

The moment I passed my dissertation defense I went off birth control despite the impact it had on my body. My periods went from manageable to unbearable. I vomited. I cried. My husband watched me curled up on the bathroom floor, helpless to provide me with any comfort. Surely this would be worth it in the end? I’d suffer briefly for the chance to bring new life into the world.

Everything was perfect: I finished my PhD. I landed my dream job as an Assistant Professor. My husband was re-located nearby so we could live together once again. We were in the perfect position to become parents. Perfect.

And I waited.

The first year passed. Nothing. My doctor told me not to worry. It was probably because of my husband’s Army travel schedule. We just had to keep trying. And waiting.

The second year passed. Again: assurances not to worry. Try a fertility test to gauge your most fertile days. Try some more. And keep waiting.

And I waited.

The third year passed. This time: concern. Maybe it’s time to see a specialist. I had 13 vials of blood drawn to run all kinds of tests. I had to have an ultrasound with a full bladder. Then again with an empty bladder. I chugged water from the water fountain.

And I waited.

The fourth year passed. By this point it became clear to me: I couldn’t get pregnant. Was it endometriosis? Was it my husband’s sperm? Was it just me?

And I waited.

The fifth year. And the sixth. By this point my husband was tired of seeing me doubled over in pain every month. We talked. We waited. We talked some more. And we decided that it wasn’t worth it to keep trying. So I went back on birth control. The physical pain was alleviated. But the emotional pain was draining.

I’d done everything right. I finished my undergrad degree. I finished my master’s program. I got married. I finished my PhD. I got a job. Now it was time for a baby. Right?

I saw everyone around me getting pregnant. And it seemed so effortless for them. One baby. Two babies. Three babies. Four.

And I waited.

Then the questions came. When are you going to have a baby? Are you trying to have a baby? Do you want to have kids? Why don’t you have kids yet? How long have you been trying? Did you try X? Y? Z?

And I waited.

It was time to call it: we are infertile.

Infertility is defined as not being able to get pregnant (conceive) after one year (or longer) of unprotected sex. According to the CDC, approximately 6% of married women aged 15 to 44 years in the United States are unable to get pregnant after one year of trying (infertility). Also, about 12% of women aged 15 to 44 years in the United States have difficulty getting pregnant or carrying a pregnancy to term (impaired fecundity). According to UCLA Health, an estimated 15% of couples will have trouble conceiving. We were in the 15%. Why couldn’t we be in the 85%? 

And I waited.

From the Nevada Center for Reproductive Medicine

Then the hurtful comments came, however well intentioned. It’ll happen soon. Everything happens for a reason. Maybe you’re not meant to have kids. Your dogs are not your kids. You’ll never understand; you’re not a mother. You’ll understand when you have kids.

And I waited.

It’s been some time since we’ve tried. We decided that we like our life the way that it is. What we’ve gained doesn’t make up for what we never had.

But we’re no longer waiting.

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2 Comments

  • TCD

    I am so sorry. From the photo of your tests it looks like you may have been repeatedly experiencing chemical pregnancies? (There are visible second lines on several of those FRERs, which suggests very early losses.)

    Completely feel free to ignore as unsolicited advice, but as another academic struggling with infertility, if you plan to keep trying I would recommend looking into immune issues and completing a repeated pregnancy loss panel if you haven’t already. The book “Is your body baby friendly?” has a great overview of potential causes of repeated losses and implantation failure.

    Sending <3. I’m still hoping to have a baby after a ruptured ectopic from my one confirmed pregnancy, but have been struggling with a lot of health issues so have had to face the grief that it might never happen.

    • Jamie Goodall

      Thanks so much for your insight. The photo was one I found on Google Image Search to represent the many tests we took. But it’s quite possible that I repeatedly experienced chemical pregnancies. Your advice is well-taken. We’ve decided, though, to stop trying and to enjoy life with just us and our puppies. I wish you all the best in your continued fertility journey and hope you’re able to conceive and carry. Sending <3

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