Near the end of Ashlee’s first trimester, I started noticing that the stereotype about pregnancy and emotions is no joke. She cried a lot — like, a lot. So much so that I started keeping a good-natured list on my phone titled “Things That Make Ashlee Cry.” A sampling:
• She learned one of my relatives is a Republican.
• Our dog, Cassie, got mud on the comforter.
• She saw a video of a baby laughing.
• She realized Cassie would die someday.
• She found a hole in her shirt.
And the list goes on. I started it in part as a souvenir of this crazy adventure, and also to remind us both to find the humor in this rollercoaster ride. From the unexpected to the unknown, the number of loops prospective parents can be thrown as they seek to build a family can be emotionally and mentally exhausting.
Both Ashlee and I are planners, and sometimes organized to a fault — which is why we often felt bombarded by the unpredictable nature of trying to conceive. More times than we can count, we had to revise Plan A into Plan B and Plan B into Plan C, and then totally scrap all our plans and open up a bottle of wine.
The donor-selection process was among the steps where roadblocks popped up around every corner. Little did we know that competition for sperm is fierce. After sifting through scores and scores of printed-out donor profiles and getting so deep into the nitty gritty that we were comparing the word choices donors used in their essays, we finally selected the champion. He had eight vials available — perfect! We went to bed satisfied with our choice, but putting off maxing out our credit card buying the stock until the morning. Big mistake. Our perfect donor had all but two vials left within just a few hours. The doctors advised us to get at least three (as it takes many women between three and five attempts using intrauterine insemination to conceive), and we also wanted to freeze extra for a future sibling — so it was back to square one. We took even less time to choose the next time but the same thing happened. We started likening our fellow sperm-seekers to vultures.
Thankfully, a new donor cropped up whom we both vetted while we were separately on our way home from work; Ashlee picked me up at the train station, we pulled into a library parking lot, called the cryobank and voilà. It was a crash course in learning how to keep our cool — which we often didn’t — when things didn’t go as planned.
The medical procedures deepened those lessons. The day after Ashlee’s first insemination in September, she woke up with intense stomach pain. Was this normal? We had zero idea. A doctor’s visit and yet another ultrasound later, and it turns out Ashlee had developed cysts from the hormone meds she had to take for two weeks leading up to the procedure. Hormone-related cysts aren’t uncommon, with some studies citing that 10 percent of women who take fertility drugs such as Clomid develop them. While some have to put off another insemination until the cysts shrink, thankfully Ashlee’s weren’t too large and the fertility doctor went to Plan B with a different type of hormone.
The timing of the inseminations was another curveball, as we had to abide by Mother Nature. The fertility center tracks women’s ovulation to try to get as optimum a timeframe as possible. For the first attempt, they scheduled the procedure the day after we were there for an ultrasound. On the second, however, I got a frantic text from Ashlee telling me to hightail it out of work and to the reproductive center because they needed to do it in just an hour. After two negatives, we were all geared up for what we hoped would be our lucky number three, only to have the docs tell us they missed the ovulation window and we had to wait another month.
With each hiccup, we practiced how to put things in perspective — yes, it was annoying that Babies “R” Us announced it was closing after we had picked out our nursery furniture, but in the grand scheme of things, a crib is a crib — and to rely on one another for that vantage point if we couldn’t see it ourselves.
The process of building a family has felt like walking into a great black tunnel, with no clue of what lay ahead — other than lots and lots of waiting.
Each IUI attempt was much more involved than we envisioned. Ashlee’s nightstand became a veritable drugstore, between the prenatal vitamins and the hormone regimen. For two weeks, she went for several ultrasounds for the reproductive doctors to track when she may ovulate. When the time came, the procedure itself was quick and painless — we were in and out in a half- hour — but then the real waiting started. The reproductive center strongly advised against taking home pregnancy tests in case of a false negative because of the hormones. Instead, they scheduled Ashlee to come back for bloodwork in two weeks to test her hCG levels, which indicate pregnancy. Then it’s an agonizing half-day before the doctor calls with the results; if it’s a no, it’s back to square one with the hormones.
With so much riding on that test, the waiting is interminable. We tried to normalize it with a routine. The day of the insemination, we each wore some kind of “Harry Potter” clothing item — we’re both big fans and had already decided to theme our eventual child’s nursery after the book series. After each insemination, we had breakfast at IHOP. Ashlee came home and put her legs up (the doctors advised us this was unnecessary, but we watched a lot of “The L Word” in our youth). Then we tried to go about business as usual with work and other obligations. By the third try, our routine became laden with even more superstitions — such as Ashlee eating pineapple core, which some say encourages implantation — the day after the insemination (again, the doctors laughed this off).
It sounds silly but those dependable behaviors became our way of coping with so much unknown. Would the insemination work? How many would we try until we gave up? Should we switch to in-vitro? And with every disappointment, we fell back onto that routine to give us something we could control.
Once we got the wonderful news of a positive pregnancy, it set off another cascade of questions. With each symptom Ashlee began to feel, and each change her body went through, we have gone rushing to Google (not always the best idea, we’ve learned) to see if that’s “normal” or not. We’ve wandered aimlessly through aisles of baby stores, baffled as to how parents figure out what they need to care for their child (and why — just why! — there is an entire floor-to-ceiling wall devoted to different types of bottles). There have been endless hours worrying about the what-ifs — especially between medical appointments in the first three months, during which time most pregnancy complications could occur. Ashlee is now approaching 26 weeks and we’ve come to see that the unknown is always there; we’ve just accepted its presence as we’ve found our footing — an evolution that we’re guessing continues all the way until our little one is an adult, and maybe even after.
While the emotional toll of becoming a parent has been high, perspective has been a lifesaving partner. We’ve tried to remind ourselves that the surprises we encountered during this process were ultimately more frustrating than they were foundation-shaking, and that the disappointments we faced would pale as soon as good news came. As Ashlee heads into the dreaded third trimester and there’s a glimmer of light at the end of that tunnel, we’re holding onto both of those lessons for dear life.
Jen Colletta is the former editor of PGN.