Friday, September 27, 2013

My Family and Fertility (Part 2)

Through the responses I have received from my initial post "Families and Infertility", I have decided that this should become a series of posts covering the topic of infertility from my point of view. I cannot write from the point of view of people who have adopted or are currently seeking to adopt. I also cannot write from the perspective of those who have been able to have advanced fertility treatment. However, below is my story.

My name is Amanda, and my husband and I have been married nearly 3 years. We have never used contraception or chosen to use Natural Family Planning as a means to abstain from having children.

My story actually begins when I was a sophomore in college. Our local Catholic student organization had brought in our local Natural Family Planning coordinator to give us the basic information on Natural Family Planning. I knew her outside of NFP because her eldest daughter was 3 years younger and we had attended Diocesan youth functions together. She gave us facts about the process of NFP, the rates of effectiveness, and why the Creighton model worked scientifically. It was funny to watch the guys squirm but it made a lot of sense. It also clarified questions I had about my own body that had never been answered by my mom.

I was in a serious relationship with a guy that I was discerning marriage about so I decided to sign up for the next one on one starter class. That class was great but also made me think about why I was choosing NFP. At that time, it was for my health and I wanted to get off hormonal birth control for my periods for good.

I had been on HBC for a year to "control" my cycles. I was seeing many of the symptoms of a normal cycle before HBC but not during. Something stirred inside my thoughts saying, "that isn't right." So with guidance from my doctor, I stopped taking HBC and tried Creighton. Using Creighton was amazing and I learned so much. I also learned that once you have information, you can't let go of it. Many of the NFP habits I developed then I still maintain now.

However, I kept loosing my stickers my charts, having issues with what I should be marking things as and waiting on others. My charts were a mess, I was a mess, and I was having trouble at school. Since I wasn't engaged yet, I thought it would be prudent to wait to start again until I was engaged.

My reproductive health became a bit scattered again and when I went for my check up the doctor asked for my family history. It wasn't the greatest but I also mentioned everything from my grandmother, paternal aunt and mom. The doctor looked at me like I was broken. He prescribed me HBC again with the warning that if I ever wanted to think about having kids I needed to know two things, one I needed to take HBC until I was ready to get pregnant to save my fertility and I needed to get pregnant by the time I was 28 if I was ever going to have kids. I gave the prescription to my mom and started taking it as recommended.

Going into my Senior year I became very sick. My cycles would shut down, I'd start to get weak and I even passed out in the chapel for no apparent reason. The only thing I could put my finger on was the HBC. This time I didn't even consult a doctor about my medication, I threw out the HBC. I started charting again and meeting with my Creighton mentor. I made another appointment and told a new doctor what had happened and she agreed I shouldn't take HBC but agreed, 28 was the magic deadline for kids.

Fast forward to two years out of college. I had grown lax in my charting but I always knew where I was in my cycle what was going on and things were relatively healthy. I had dumped my long time boyfriend and started dating my now husband. We are both Catholic and wanted to start charting together. This didn't work out, my previous mentor was a mom from the homeschool group he belonged to and the only other teaching couple in the area was one of his professors. Thankfully there are many new smartphone apps and charting programs online to learn and implement. That's what we use still today.

We were married and decided not to abstain but not actively try to conceive either. We had moved for work to an area where there weren't many teaching couples and even fewer NFP friendly doctors. I had been in recently for a large anovulatory cycle and the doctor brushed me off because I wasn't pregnant and I was fat. That's the only reason my body was acting out. No tests, no checking, just get used to it. Somehow the same magic statement of "If you want kids, you better be pregnant by 28" was still there.

Since our marriage we've had two miscarriages. The first we were shocked and excited at the "pregnant" sign on the view window but as I kept testing lines got lighter and lighter. When I called into my doctor, she didn't want to see me but because I was early, I'd be fine passing "it" at home. I was told to treat it like a heavy period. So I did. I was only about 6-8 weeks along but I knew when I had passed her. I was in shock and didn't know what to do. In a blind panic I ended up flushing my little girl down the toilet. It wasn't until a few days later it had sunk in what I had done. I still pray for forgiveness for that every day. Our second is still fresh and I'm not comfortable sharing that story.

Currently I have a wonderful doctor who is willing to work with me and order needed tests for my husband and I. However, right now with our current insurance, we are not able to get the tests we want done. Although this doctor doesn't buy into the magic 'pregnant by 28" it is still a fear that looms on the horizon and that horizon is getting closer. We wait patiently and continue charting. We've placed our children and any others God may give us into his hands because as parents, it's the least we can do.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Families and Infertility (Part 1)

I know I haven't been posting lately for one reason primarily, I knew I couldn’t be charitable. This comes about because of a topic that has been nagging me a lot in the back of my mind, married infertility.

There are two articles which finally spurred me into reflectively writing about this. The first is an article by Fr. Robert Barron, “The Very Sad Childfree Life” which I first encountered at, and “Of Wedding Bells and Baby Booties: 10 Reasons to Have Kids Early in Your Marriage” from Katie Peterson Warner at The Integrated Catholic Life.

Both of these articles are very good reads and provided a lot for me to think about as a young married woman. The reason that these articles stirred so much in me is, I am a late 20’s married Catholic, who practices NFP with my husband of almost 3 years. We desire to have children and cannot. Our lack of children is not by choice and if we had a choice we would have a little one preparing for at most their second birthday and a newborn in our arms. Instead we have our little apartment with only 7 fish and each other to take care of.

If you have read the above articles you can figure that my husband and I are not the 20 something couple who has chosen to not have children, but how would you recognize us in a restaurant, grocery shopping, or speaking to us in church? We do go on dates, we try our best to take care of each other, we enjoy the company of each other and our friends. We try to take trips and visit family. We wouldn’t look any different than those who have chosen to not have children. Fr. Barron is spot on in his title, “The Very Sad Childfree Life”, except we realize what we are missing and cannot bring it into our lives.

Katie Peterson Warner is also spot on in her article. I have watched these characteristics shine through many of my friends and in-laws who are recently married and having children. It’s amazing to watch them grow and strengthen their marriages and realizing at the same time that my husband and I are more like our unmarried friends than them.

I know at surface value these may seem like selfish and superficial reasons to desire children. At least for my husband and I, these aren't our only reasons.

Most married couples can attest to the two functions of sex in marriage, to be unitive and reproductive. It is also common scientific knowledge that there is only a small window that a woman can conceive a child in. It is a true miracle for any child to be conceived in any act of intercourse. One of the blessings of any form of Natural Family Planning is that I could tell you on any given day, my cycle date, which “phase” of my cycle I'm in, whether I’m waiting or not to see if I'm pregnant and a whole other plethora of “too much information”.

It’s a battle of potential doctor’s appointments, progesterone, blood draws, vitamins, and personal health issues to see a test with only one line on it. A struggle to keep yourself positive when you are overthinking every symptom that your body has to say of whether is it pregnancy or is it PMS. The courage to look at every period as a chance to start fresh rather than what did we do wrong. A challenge to not cry a little bit for every pregnancy announcement, story of a family member who had infertility and got pregnant naturally, or stick to your beliefs and not cave to medical treatments like IVF.

I will fully acknowledge the good work that institutes like the Pope Paul VI Institute has done for Natural Reproduction to enhance a couple’s chance to have a natural conception. I am thankful Church documents like Familiaris Consortio, Donum Vitae, and Dignitas Personae, for at least acknowledging that infertility is a struggle, even for a brief moment.

This is the cross my husband and I carry. It is often heavier than I can imagine and barely noticed by those we haven’t told. I know that those who share stories of those who have suffered infertility and had children are only sharing their joy. The truth is, it doesn't always turn out that way. Rather let me tell you this story.

My husband and I are happy to say that we are performers. We love being involved in concerts, plays, musicals and anything that lets our love of the performing arts be shared with others. On our wedding day, we stood in a large Cathedral, without microphones, and stating our consent to marriage and vows publicly. We wanted to be heard and would have screamed it from the rooftops if we could have.

We had stated our intent twice, we had come together freely and with the intent to honor each other for the rest of our lives. The priest asked us if we were willing to accept children lovingly as a gift from God. Our “yes” resounded even louder. Our two year old nephew who was just learning to speak his mind chimed even louder, “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” to the laughter of us and our guests. As the laughter died down, my husband and I looked back at each other and in hushed voices said yes, smiled and continued through the mass.

I still look back on that and laugh today, but now I have a little whispering voice wondering if it wasn't at least a little prophetic of the struggle that my husband and I have today.

In writing this, I’m not saying that these other articles have said something wrong. I just find it painful that people who I love and trust have thought this is our choice or that we could wish or pray a child into being. I am writing this to show others that this is a struggle that many couples are facing and that I can’t be the only woman who is looking to guidance from our clergy others who are facing this struggle as well.