In first grade my class did a project about what we wanted to be when we grew up. Other kids aspired to be doctors and race car drivers. I wanted to be a mommy. Many years later, I was a grown woman, and after three years of marriage, my husband and I decided it was time for a family. We discussed children during our courtship, so we knew we were on the same page of desiring a family.
I was young and healthy, so I expected to have success conceiving quickly. I surrounded myself with other young moms, going so far as to fantasize about nursery decor, baby names, and maternity clothes. I probably drove my husband crazy with my baby fever, but he went along for the ride. A year passed. On a routine doctor visit, he questioned the length of time I had been off birth control, and recommended some preliminary infertility screenings.
My tests all came back with favorable results, so the next step was for my husband to be examined by a urologist. The initial results revealed that he had “azoospermia”, otherwise known as zero sperm count. This was unexpected news, but we were still hopeful for solutions. He was referred to a specialist who could review his situation and possibly perform an operation to bypass a potential blockage. This is when our infertility nightmare began.
Almost immediately, it was determined that he had testicular cancer, and surgery was performed right away to remove the testicle. Prior to surgery, he gave one last deposit to a sperm bank. He began radiation treatments to combat the cancer, which had spread to his abdomen. I think we were too stunned by the turn of events to think clearly, but very grateful that his life was saved in such a roundabout way.
Our infertility specialist fast-tracked us to in vitro treatments. Perhaps, for the sake of our marriage, it would have been best to take a break from baby making to process everything that had just happened. Something tragic occurred, yet his prognosis was excellent. Continuing our efforts to have a baby seemed a good way to focus on something positive and a tie to bind us closer together. He had just suffered a brush with death. He never said “no, stop!”, but maybe that’s what I needed to do to show him that he was the most important thing.
What I never said, until it was too late, was that if we never had children, it would be okay. Yes, I did want a family, but I chose him and a life with him without any children in the picture. If we could never have children, I certainly wouldn’t blame him. He quietly burrowed himself into a deep depression. His masculinity had taken a huge hit from losing part of his manhood and not being able to produce a child, and he was wracked with disappointment and sadness.
We grieved and feared that our dreams of having a child would never happen, but we did not lean on one another nearly as much as we needed to. We were like two robots. I methodically gave myself shots every day to prepare for the in vitro procedure. He occupied himself with his final radiation treatments. We were going through the motions of making a baby, but not as a man and wife, entangled in blissful adoration for each other.
The fateful day of embryo implantation arrived. I received a call from the clinic technician who informed me that he located five very poor quality sperm in the frozen sample from Texas with which he did everything he could to prepare five viable embryos. I was then relegated to days of bed rest while we held our breath to see if our one chance to have a baby would succeed. The chances were not very good, but this was our only shot.
By strange coincidence, we had a large print in our bedroom depicting five cherubs. For the days that I laid in bed following implantation I fixated on the chubby, smiling faces of these little angels, imagining the five potential babies knitting together in my own womb. I tried to comprehend what it would be like if we actually delivered all five babies; but, I prayed that just one or two would be in my arms in several months.
A few days later, I was given a pregnancy test, and we learned that he and I would have no biological children together.
So, what do you do when you learn that you will never share a child with the man you love? It was a blow, but I still believed we could have a happy ending to our family. I may have been terribly misguided. I suggested adoption or even donor sperm. He finally drew the line and stated that if the child wasn’t “his” it wouldn’t be “good enough.” We were done.
We were completely done. The experience of discovering he was infertile, the cancer diagnosis, the failed attempt at a baby, and probably my persistence put the final nail in our marriage coffin. He informed me that he no longer loved me and that he wanted to live by himself. I assured him that I was in it for him, and that my commitment did not depend on children.
We had joined the ranks of other infertile couples who are as much as three times more likely to divorce because of the devastation and stress of infertility. Infertility is all-consuming and a test to the strength of any marriage. Some couples will forge tighter bonds through the trials and grief, while others will pull apart at the seams from stress, blame, or financial ruin.
Part of me thinks he released me because he felt guilt for not giving me my dream of a child. I am saddened that I couldn’t make him see that he was my dream.
I would caution any other couple considering advanced reproductive therapy to seriously consider where they are at as a couple and to accept mental health supports through the process. Infertility is a cruel roller coaster of emotions. We can all hope that the end result will be a beautiful bundle of joy; but, we must not throw out the baby with the bath water and let the marriage be destroyed in the process.
I did not offer whatever support and understanding that I obviously needed to as a wife. He probably needed to speak up more about what he felt and wanted. I needed to do a better job of making sure he knew that I loved him no matter what. I told him repeatedly, but it either wasn’t heard or believed.
If you are one of the couples who does not survive after the rigors of infertility treatment, I can say that, as in most things, time does heal the wounds. You may still continue your journey to have a child, or you may decide that the door has closed for you. As much as we can try to Monday morning quarterback the events of the past to assign blame or analyze what went wrong, sometimes it’s impossible.