It’s supposed to be simple, starting a family. For 25 months we did our utmost to conceive. Over and over hoping for the best, which never materialised.
Lifestyle adjustments, supplements, research, matching his n’her embarrassing tests, daily monitoring, surgery, and not to mention no small amount of sex, had all come to nothing.
Trying to conceive was influencing every decision we made on a daily basis. We were feeling the effects of cyclical failures, with no explanation, and we were tired.
Finally, last March, following two years of invasive tests and procedures, trying and failing, we received the go-ahead for intrauterine insemination (IUI). It’s a huge weight off your shoulders when a doctor tells you they will step in and actively try to help.
My wife was to start medication to stimulate follicle development, and should we both survive the battering her hormones would go through as a result, she would be inseminated with a batch of my own finest contribution.
On returning to the hospital to monitor progress we discovered that the medication had worked brilliantly. Too brilliantly. Instead of the 2 or 3 viable follicles we had hoped for, there were more than half a dozen.
Partly due to the fact that neither of us are reality television material, but mostly due the hospital’s refusal to continue with the procedure, the cycle was wisely cancelled. We left the hospital that day being advised to use contraception.
That cycle resulted in failure, as did the following one. In May we returned for another attempt at the IUI, with an aggressive reduction in dosage and a cautious increase in worry.
After a week of monitoring, watching numerous follicles appear and disappear from view like lucky numbers in a lottery drum, we finally had the right number for an insemination.
That was the signal for us both to do what we do best. Me, abuse myself in the name of procreation before parading through a public building with my own seed in my pocket, and my wife, prepare to lie there wondering is it in yet.
Watching an overly chatty stranger set my bar-coded semen loose amongst her genetically modified eggs could only be described as surreal. Unless you consider ‘was it good for you’ jokes as being of some value, I may as well have stayed at home for all the use I was.
The procedure passed as uneventfully as any attempt to create a new human can, and we settled into the most drawn out two weeks of our lives. Our minds raced and skin crawled for days before she finally got to take the test.
It’s remarkable how long you can continue to hold something covered in urine when it represents good news. Perhaps it was a symbolic start to a future handling someone else’s bodily waste products, because against the odds, the IUI had worked first time. The pregnancy test was positive.
The weeks that followed are a blur. There were many checks on the progress of the pregnancy coupled with a lot of breath-holding. Eventually, we were freed from the care of the fertility department and let loose into the wild as a set of normal expectant parents.
It’s hard to shake off the negativity that takes over you when you’ve spent so long trying and failing to conceive, success in itself isn’t enough to immediately reverse the damage. Our first afternoon in a bookshop picking out pregnancy books can only be described as sheepish; embarrassingly glancing at books like a 14 year old would at the top shelf of a newsagent. Even later, trips into baby stores felt like spying missions behind enemy lines. Get in and out as fast as possible before someone realises you don’t really belong.
One oddity about long term trying to conceive was that while we put so much energy into attempting to become pregnant, we had failed to spend any time in preparing for life after getting pregnant. We had spent two years trying to achieve one thing, and now that was done we were utterly clueless.
More truthfully, it was just too hard to put already scarce energy into something that always fell just beyond our reach.
Hearing our child’s heartbeat, powerful and strong, was a huge moment. Ultrasounds and videos, kicks and movements, all one by one added layers of reality to something very hard to believe. Previous cautiousness started to give way to excited plans for what lay ahead.
Some might feel disappointed that they have to take this route to start a family, but not me. I’m hugely proud of what we have done with the help of some very skilled people. A lot of hard work and difficult times have been endured to bring about this baby. We are responsible for getting this far, we did the pushing; we kept each other motivated when repeated disappointments made giving up an attractive option. If ever there was a reason for people to keep trying, this is it.
As if to remind me that I have absolutely no control over how this will progress, my previous plea to be able to hear the joyful sound of my wife vomiting her guts up has fallen on deaf ears, she hasn’t been ill once, it’s been the perfect pregnancy.
This hasn’t been a journey of 9 months; but one of almost three years, one where we’ve slowly come around to the idea that we can be normal again. It’s just that sometimes being normal means working your way through 27 failures, 34 eggs, a pint glass full of erratic swimmers, surgery, and having a dozen or so strangers poking around your wife’s ironically dubbed ‘private parts’.
With just 3 weeks to go, while she struggles to get out of a chair, I can hardly sit still. These days are the most exciting, positivity filled, and happiest we’ve known.
The best bit of course, is that this is only the beginning.
'After years of trying.' was originally published by the Irish Times on 2nd February, 2010. Subscription required for articles more than 1 year old.