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On infertility (an excerpt from Breathing Faith, chapter 2)

My husband Jay and I had talked about the possibility of having a family, but it was always like a fluffy thought “out there”, never real, just a cloud passing by. Jay knew about my endometriosis, and I told him that it might be hard for me to get pregnant. Of course, at that time of early-relationship-wonder, we had no idea what that would mean. But we agreed that we would take what life gave us. Together. After so many years of going it solo, this brought a surprising and heart-warming and profound sense of relief to me, filling in a gap that I was not even aware that I had.

It was about six months after our wedding that we began to seriously talk about trying to get pregnant. I was becoming acutely aware of my age. Everywhere I looked, I saw women with big, beautiful pregnant bellies. Magazines taunted me with articles about the difficulties of getting pregnant as a woman of “advanced age.” Online searches terrified me with statistics about what could go wrong for pregnant women over thirty-five and on and on and on.

Suddenly we found that our lovemaking took on a new twist. It was work. I found myself poring over articles and books on fertility, sponging up information about how to increase my chances at conceiving. I learned all about my peak fertility period, also known as my “fertile window.” My window was apparently open on days 13-15, when supposedly I was ovulating. We began to chart my monthly cycles to determine what days I would most likely be ovulating. Over the next several months Jay and I became quite concerned about what day we were on.

“We are on Day One,” I chanted.

“Day Fifteen is tomorroww--get ready!” we’d joke over morning coffee.

Day Twenty-eight came. Month after month I got my period, and there was always a feeling of letdown.

We tried this method for several months before we went to see my gynecologist. I was fast approaching my late thirties with a history of endometriosis and a much-compromised reproductive system. During the first visit with Doctor T, we reviewed my charts. He scratched his head and wondered aloud if we were accurately pinpointing when my ovulation was occurring. “Ovulation is rather like smoke and mirrors,” he said. “Keep at it for another three months. If nothing happens, come back and see me.”

I read more articles and more books, which were all pretty depressing. But I picked up a little tip. Drink cough syrup before sex. While there was not a lot of medical research to support this idea, I read enough online message boards from women who swore that it worked for them, so I thought, what do I have to lose?

Here is how it is supposed to work. An ingredient in certain cough syrups — guaifenesin — can supposedly help women get pregnant by thinning cervical fluid, which enables sperm to travel through the cervix and fertilize an egg. Okay, this sounded simple enough. If I knew from taking my temperature every morning that I was ovulating-- but if I did not seem to be producing much wet, slippery, cervical fluid-- guaifenesin might be all the help I’d need to get pregnant. Guaifenesin is an expectorant. That is, it relieves congestion by helping liquefy mucus in the lungs. And because it works systemically on all mucous membranes in the body, it can make cervical fluid wetter, too. Okey dokey.

So we were taking my temperature, counting days, charting ovulation. And I was drinking cough syrup. A lot of cough syrup.

After a few months of this, we went back to see Doctor T. By then I had remembered that, in a moment of pure genius back in New Haven, I had asked Doctor F. for copies of my surgical notes. Jay and I brought these with us for Doctor T. to review. He read this report over carefully, while I sat on the exam table picking at my cuticles. Jay stared at the posters of trees and flowers that hung on the ceiling. Doctor T. finally looked up at me with his brows furrowed, and cleared his throat.

“Lori, I did not know you had an oophorectomy.”

I gulped. “An oopher-what?”

“It says here in your surgical notes from 1989 that you had an ovary removed…”

“WHAT?” My jaw dropped. Doctor F. never told me that he removed an ovary. I remembered his exact words to me, that my right ovary “was nowhere to be found.” Now I was finding out that, in fact, he removed the thing? And didn’t tell me? My blood was beginning to boil.

Doctor T. looked at me sympathetically. I always liked him. He was kind and thorough and mellow. “Don’t worry. There are plenty of women who get pregnant with just one ovary.”

Hadn’t I heard that before?

I looked over at Jay. This was his first time in a gynecologist’s office and he was understandably uncomfortable, fidgeting incessantly. I didn’t know whether to be hopeful or furious. Doctor T. continued, “I think it is time we send you two over to Doctor W. He is a fine reproductive endocrinologist. He can help you more than I can, at this point.”

Humph. At this point. That did not sound good to me. Like there were more points to come. I wanted to jump right out of my fertility window.

It was the end of my life, as I knew it.

This is an excerpt from my book, Breathing Faith: A Journey through Infertility and a High-Risk Pregnancy. You can find it here:

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