Walk around any city or town on a sunny day, and you’ll see numerous pregnant families. Some of those families may even have 1 or 2 children in tow. Go to a family gathering, and you’ll see your relative’s kids chasing after one another. Maybe they’re playing touch football on Thanksgiving Day. Have dinner with your friends who have children, and the conversation includes numerous tales of parenthood. Now, imagine for a moment that you can’t have children due to infertility. Imagine the sadness felt when that expecting family walks past you. Imagine the despair at seeing your relative’s children playing together. Imagine the loneliness of being the only friend at the dinner table without kids.
Infertility is a devastating diagnosis, and one all too familiar to me and my wife, Shira. We endured six failed in-vitro fertilization (IVF) cycles over the course of three years. Shira underwent a number of medical procedures hoping to increase our chances of conceiving, but nothing worked. Three years gone with nothing left to show for it but physical and mental scars. Our marriage fell apart. Infertility left me jaded, and I no longer wanted children. Yet, ask me now if I would do it all over again, and my answer would be yes. In 2014, after 5 years of struggling, we became the parents of twin boys through the use of a gestational carrier. Our path may have been beset with many obstacles, but ultimately that path led us to Max and Gabe.
From a young age, Shira suffered from uterine fibroids (benign tumors of the uterus). She had been through multiple surgeries to remove them. The amount and size of fibroids vary from case to case. For Shira, the fibroids were small, but they were everywhere. In addition, she was also diagnosed with Asherman’s Syndrome–a condition where both adhesions and scarring in the uterus are common. We knew from the beginning that our odds of naturally conceiving were very low. IVF would be our reality, but insurance didn’t cover it until we tried to naturally conceive for 1 year. In 2009, we were married, and for the next year we tried our best to conceive a child through the traditional (and more fun) way. Unfortunately, the year passed without a pregnancy. We started preparing for IVF with a sense of excitement. Our issues were uterine related, and not embryonic. We could make a good embryo, but we just needed a little help getting the embryo to attach.
The first IVF cycle was filled with the most hope. IVF is a mind blowing, medical miracle. It had to work. The 1st cycle failed. We were fresh and naïve. We thought it might take a few tries before it worked. The 2nd cycle failed. Shira began acupuncture. Number 3 was our magic number. This time it would work. The 3rd cycle failed. In a post-cycle meeting, our doctor gently suggested we consider the use of gestational carrier. We were ideal candidates, she said. We listened to her counsel, but we were hell bent on success. We weren’t leaving any chips on the table. Shira underwent a procedure to remove scar tissue. The 4th cycle failed. Our marriage became strained. The 5th cycle failed. We were running out of chips. The 6th cycle failed. Shira underwent another procedure with a different doctor. He referred to her uterus as “diseased”. He recommended she undergo a hysterectomy. The dust settled around us. Our marriage was in ruins.
In 3 short years, we went from the glow of the honeymoon to the brink of divorce. Our lives became defined by the schedule of the IVF cycle. It didn’t help anything that I was traveling 4 days a week for work. Our therapist didn’t mince words during our first session. He said our marriage was in “crisis”. We weren’t the worst he had seen, but we were close. Yet, he asked us to remember that as bad as things were, there was still hope. Session by session we began to work through the pain. Therapy is never easy, and we faced truths about ourselves as a couple and as individuals. Infertility will always be a part of our story. The hurt has faded, but it will never fully disappear. Yet, infertility no longer defines our lives. Our boys keep us too busy for that!
On March 22, 2014, Max and Gabe were born through the use of our gestational carrier, Heidi. Heidi, her husband Mike, and their 3 girls have become part of our family, and we a part of theirs. They gave us so much, and we are forever grateful. I wasn’t in the delivery room when the boys were born, but I was in an adjoining room with 2 teams of nurses who were waiting for the boys. One of the nurses told me that she would raise her arm to alert the others when the first baby was born. She would raise it again when the second baby was born. I still get goose bumps when I tell the story, and more often than not I cry. The moment was magical, and it will forever be one of the best memories of my life. I can vividly recall the nurse’s arm going up the first time, and seconds later Max was brought into the room. Moments later, it went back up, and Gabe was brought in.
As I type this, Max and Gabe are taking their afternoon naps. They are starting to walk, and Shira and I continue to heal.