(A note to the reader: April 24 to 30 is Canadian Infertility Awareness Week. I had every intention to click “publish” on this post last week, but I hesitated. This morning, after connecting online with a high school acquaintance, I felt inspired and encouraged to continue to add my voice to the conversation about infertility. Please embrace these words as my own personal narrative. I am not a medical professional, nor am I an expert. I hope these words are calming and healing, but I’m mindful that they can also be triggering. I attempt to write with honesty and grace.)
“Infertility, by definition, is the inability to conceive after one year of unprotected intercourse. It is estimated that 1 in 6 couples experience such problems within the general population. Infertility can affect anyone in the reproductive age range and include all genders and ethnicities.”-Dr. Clive Lee, Gynecologist, and Obstetrician, Humber River Hospital
I was 38 years old when I had the first genuine thought – an internal desire – to become a mother.
I have 10 nieces and nephews, and being an Auntie brings me so much pride and joy. Many close friends have darling offspring of their own who I adore being around and playing with.
The possibility of adoption had occurred to me many times as I aged, quietly embracing the reality that I was strong, independent, and single and chose to pursue mostly transient, noncommittal relationships. Open and intrigued as I was to the idea of being a mother, the feelings were often faint and fleeting.
Until I met Damien.
My blue-eyed, free-spirited, wave-chasing, kind and curious lover became the only man I saw as my everlasting – the person who unraveled my heart and, in doing so, uncovered the layers of longing for a life partner and a human to parent alongside with. He, too, confided that he hadn’t fully contemplated fatherhood until he met me.
The seed for a wildling had been planted. Then, for the first time in my life, I heard my biological clock tick – and it was roaring loudly.
In April 2020, just a year shy of our courtship commencing, Damien received a phone call from Mount Sinai Fertility asking if he wanted to keep his sperm frozen for another year. After his second diagnosis of Hodgkin’s lymphoma a few years prior, he chose to freeze his goods before starting treatment.
This phone call was the ember that ignited our initial conversations about planning a family.
We were referred to a fertility specialist by Damien’s oncologist at Prince Margaret Hospital. After a few months of tests and trying to conceive naturally, we received a diagnosis that we were expecting. To get pregnant, we would need to undergo fertility treatment. Our first attempt came on Christmas Day 2020. We were unsuccessful, but now we knew what to expect.
That same December, we also reached out to our local Children’s Aid Society to learn about and start the adoption process. We had an initial interview where we disclosed that we were undergoing fertility treatment. We were unable to proceed with adoption as potential parents until after we were done with our fertility efforts. Our intention for starting adoption simultaneously as fertility was to understand that becoming adopt-ready could take a few years. I am glad that we reached out when we did because it turned any assumptions into action, and I felt like we started to move forward in learning and navigating a very complex and daunting process.
The timing of our family planning was ambitious: a global pandemic had just unleashed itself on the world, I was pursuing political aspirations, and Damien was starting up his own manufacturing company. But we were in love, enthusiastic about unearthing our mutual desire to become parents, and the calendar told us we were approaching forty.
We are young, but we knew we didn’t want to wait. Especially when we know that we are embarking on a long and enduring journey.
I could go on at length about the physical, emotional, mental, and financial hardships that fertility treatment imposes. I didn’t react well to the drugs, the trips to Toronto disrupted work, the pandemic impacted our livelihood (as it did for everyone), I hadn’t fully planned for the bank-breaking costs, I grew tired, and I withdrew from the man that I love.
Damien is a rock through it all, my eternal wave – a source of endless hope, moral support, and optimism.
But with each negative outcome, after multiple failed cycles and rising credit card bills, I became more irritable, anxious, and discouraged. We were going through treatment in silence, for the most part, not disclosing our intentions to too many people. I did my best to participate, wake up, and show up. After our last attempt this past November, it became too much. I took a sabbatical from a company led by a woman I admire. I took some time to sleep.
The winter became my refuge and the forest my sanctuary. Playing outside in the cold became healing. A space to breathe. To let my thoughts fade away. The pain buried beneath an avalanche of snow.
After five treatments (one IVF and four IUIs), our fertility specialist went over the data with us and assessed our situation in November. “You cannot conceive on your own,” she said.
I cried a thousand tears in mere seconds. Damien squeezed my hand.
This was when I learned about ovarian failure and the option of using a donor egg. We consented immediately, feeling a sense of relief and curiosity as we hit a fork in the road and veered slightly left to pursue another path.
Choosing a donor egg is quite the experience, let me tell you. We underwent more testing, counseling appointments, and paperwork for five months. Finally, in early April, I found a donor that was genetically compatible with Damien and whose motivations for donating her eggs spoke to me. She wrote openly about her volunteerism, her depression, and her love for the outdoors, water and trails. Her smile radiates joy. Within moments I knew that I had found our donor.
At the turn of the new year, Damien and I also resumed our pursuit to become adoptive parents. In January, we completed our PRIDE training, and in March, we started our home study. Both components are requirements to become what the province calls “adopt ready .”It’s onerous and invasive, but we understand why it is. We are committed to every requirement, appointment, and assignment.
We are determined to make our way through this. Because all the trials and tribulations, ebbs and flows; highs and lows, love and loss lead us to our children.
Despite all my positive thinking and therapies (morning boot camps, journaling, naturopathy, and counseling), this tension between hurt and humility still lingers. Can I miss something that I never actually had? Can I see the light at the end of this very long tunnel? Can I make sense of the silver lining glowing just ahead at the edge of the horizon?
Of course, I can. I am grieving. I am disappointed. I am hopeful. I see the light.
I choose faith over fear because I know that Damien and I will be extraordinary parents. We will raise wildlings with open and gracious hearts and an endearing passion for life.
Just how we become parents is yet to be determined. That unknown is part of our story. And I’ll keep writing about it because it is healing. Connecting with others who are or who have shared their fertility sorrows and successes is encouraging and comforting. So, thank you for giving and holding space – talking about it alleviates some of the loneliness and rejuvenates my spirits.
Wherever you are on your journey, allow yourself to explore the grief and disappointment of infertility. Hold onto hope. Look for the cracks, for that is how the light gets in (thanks for the lyrics, Leonard Cohen).
Choose faith over fear.
Like mine, your stork is flying towards you, your beautifully patient love, and your relentlessly resilient heart.
“We get so focused on the glass, whether it’s half-full or half-empty, and we can argue forever between optimists and pessimists. Both can say the other is being unrealistic. But it wouldn’t matter if we looked at more the world and saw that there’s a pitcher of water that’s sitting next to it […] Life is the pitcher and we’re missing the pitcher when we’re so focused on that one element. It doesn’t matter if your glass is half-full or half-empty if there’s a pitcher of water right next to you. And we need to look at the full picture to see the full pitcher.”-Shawn Achor