Lately, I've been thinking a lot about my infertility and family building career, which began in earnest twelve years ago. Perhaps, this is because, as time marches on, it is coming to a seemingly definitive end. It's been quite the adventure, to say the least, but the question that I keep coming back to is this: How did I, a woman with very serious infertility problems, manage to end up with children in the end?
As I review all the twists and turns my husband and I encountered, I have stumbled upon a few factors that I believe, ultimately, contributed to our success. Several of these factors were not in our control, but to me the most important one was flexibility, the willingness to try a different direction, even if it was not our first inclination. I can't say this was a virtue on our part, but rather a necessity--mainly because what we originally wanted, which was to have children "naturally", genetically related to both of us, and on our own time table (not to mention without significant expense), was simply not possible.
I was particularly reminded of the importance of flexibility as I read Holly Finn's excerpt of her book about her own infertility struggles in the Wall Street Journal a couple of weeks ago (which can be found here). I was moved by the following portion:
"After a recent procedure failed—we got just two eggs, and neither was fertilized—I revisited decisions and doctors.
I went back to Doc S. and asked straight out: Would a sane person bother trying again? He said, "I don't think there's anything insane about what you're doing." But he gives me a less than 5% chance of a cycle working, down from 10% to 15% when I started, and he brings up the possibility of donor eggs. That's code for "time's up."
The success rate with donor eggs is 80% on the first transfer. Many people turn to this option (one out of 10 IVF cycles in the U.S., at last count), though nearly none admit it. I can imagine using this option if I were with a man to whom I would love to give a child, but right now, I'd be match-making a couple of strangers in my womb.
I know that it's not just genes that you pass down to a child; it's also your spirit and what you believe. Still, I resist having someone else's baby.
It's because of my thumbs. The left one is long, skinny and straight—very feminine. The right is squat, thicker and curved—definitely masculine. The first is my mother's; the second, my father's. They're exact replicas. My sister has them too.
There's something about being able to see where at least some of your parts are from."
I could really identify with Ms. Finn's struggle. Part of being flexible in regards to infertility treatment requires us to experience loss. Without being able to mourn what you won't ever have, it's difficult to move on to what you could have. Although I sincerely hope Ms. Finn's treatment with her own eggs is successful, it may be that she is not medically capable of producing a child with her own eggs. That is, of course sad and unfair--but is it worth, as they say, throwing out the baby with the bathwater? This is a personal choice, of course, that we can only make for ourselves. In the end, when faced with analogous circumstances, I have chosen to hold the goal of being a parent as primary, and the genetic connection as secondary. That may not be the best choice for everyone, but it seemed to work for us. For instance, adopting our daughter from India was an amazing, albeit challenging experience, one that I would never trade for anything. However, if you'd told me a few years prior to the adoption that I was going to do that, I never, ever would have believed you. Things change.
Dawn Davenport, at Creating a Family.org, wrote a really wonderful blog post this week that also addresses this point (found here), on whether or not a child of adoption (or created in any infertility treatment for that matter) might feel that they arrived in the family as a result of "second best choice". Ms. Davenport uses the analogy of ending up in Lisbon rather than Paris as a result of circumstances, only to learn that she actually loves Lisbon far more than she could have predicted. I've also read a similar travel analogy used in regard to loving a child with special needs. Either way, the sentiment is beautiful and rings true to my own experience. Although we may really want things, in truth, we may not always be able to get them. This is not just true of infertility--it occurs in all aspects of life. Sometimes, when we refuse to give up on a specific desire, it prevents us from being open to all the other possibilities we may have.
Of course, in the case of my family, we weren't just flexible--we also got lucky. We managed to adopt in India before the process became much more difficult and restrictive. For once, we fell on the right side of the treatment success statistics. We also had jobs that provided us with time off and health insurance. We also were fortunate to have a supportive network of family and friends. For all these factors, I am incredibly grateful. But in spite of them all, without being flexible about how we achieved our goals, we just couldn't have built our family. For us, it seemed to be the most important underlying principle of our journey.
By the way, while you are reading the blog over at Creatingafamily.org, be sure to also read Ms. Davenport's post about a Dear Abby column about the appropriateness of an adoption fundraiser. It's one of the best infertility blog posts I've read lately, and really combats a lot of the prejudices and stereotypes that those of us with infertility experience!