Welcome to Refinery29’s Fertility Diaries, where people chronicle their joyous, painful, and sometimes complicated paths to parenthood.
History: My husband and I started trying to conceive on our first anniversary, back in August 2019. It hasn’t worked yet, and we’re still trying. I was hoping to be one of those women who got pregnant right away, but it seems that’s not the case for me. I’m trying to be patient — and to not panic.
As my husband and I “try,” I’m working as a mental health counselor at a non-profit organization that works with foster families and youth involved in the criminal justice system. The parents I come in contact with have a history of abusing or neglecting their children. The kids have been left unprotected.
I have compassion for these families who are just doing their best to get through life. But I admit, the longer I go without getting pregnant, I find myself feeling increasingly frustrated as I meet parents who miss appointments to see their children who are in foster care, or seem angry and annoyed when they do see them.
Location: Brooklyn, NY
Occupation: Licensed Mental Health Counselor
Annual Household Income: $280K
Going off birth control
My husband and I just got married. After we get back from our honeymoon, I initiate a discussion about getting off my birth control pills. It’s a big talk. My husband’s a little nervous at first. But I’ve been on taking these artificial hormones for more than 10 years, and I want to stop manipulating my body. Plus, I’ve heard it can help your chances of conception if you get off birth control beforehand. I’m certainly not a medical professional, but I want all the help I can get.
After I stop taking the little white pills at 8 a.m. each morning, my husband purchases a bulk pack of condoms off of Amazon. We use one once, hate it, and decide to just roll the dice from now on.
Cost: $26 I’ll never get back for the condoms.
November 16, 2018
Even though we’re not actively trying, I want to enter into my journey towards parenthood armed with information. So I decide to undergo a genetic carrier screen to see if my offspring could potentially be predisposed to disease or developmental abnormalities. The test examines over 400 genes, and analyzes the chances of a fetus carrying a genetic condition. Thankfully, my results reveal that I carry only two genetic syndromes (which the genetic counselor says is low).
My husband doesn’t get tested, partly because he doesn’t want to spend $250 for his own test — and mostly because he doesn’t think it’s really necessary. In his mind, it’s another way that the pharmaceutical industry is trying to take advantage of us. Because of this, I can’t have a totally clear picture of potential abnormalities our child could develop.
Cost: $249 out of pocket for my screen, because my insurance won’t cover it. This cost is worth it to me for peace of mind.
August 2018 to July 2019
For the first year of our marriage my husband and I have sex, always unprotected, around once or twice a week — sometimes more, sometimes less. I often bring up wanting to conceive, but he’s still not on board. To be real, the thought of fatherhood scares the shit out of him.
He has some anxiety about having an unplanned pregnancy. So I keep loose track of my cycle using a free app on my phone and start to figure out when I’m ovulating. I tell him when I am, and we deliberately don’t have sex during those windows — for the most part. At times, it’s challenging to go against what I want, which is to “try” during my most fertile time. But I know the right thing to do is to tell him. This weighs on me, but I also know my husband, and I know that he’ll be ready eventually. This does add a bit of friction to our relationship, but I don’t want to start the journey by pressuring him into conceiving.
Still, I am feeling a little antsy. While tracking my cycles, I realize that they’re very irregular — sometimes 28 days, sometimes 52 days. It’s a little concerning, but I’m hoping I shouldn’t feel alarmed. My mom struggled to get pregnant with me, so I worry I’ll have similar problems. I’ve always wanted children and everyone who knows me knows this. I helped raise my younger sisters and had babysitting jobs up until just a few years ago. I just love caring for others.
Cost: $0. Sex is the one thing in this process that’s free.
July 27, 2019
Anniversary trip to Argentina
My husband and I plan a trip to Argentina for our one-year anniversary. He’s glad we’re not “expecting” leading up to the trip, he says, because he’s been looking forward to this nine-day adventure for a while. Aside from the sightseeing and exploring, we’re feeling so in love and grateful to have each other. We have sex almost every day we’re there. I buy ovulation test strips and bring them on the trip, just to see if we happen to catch my fertile window. Data is amazing, right?
Towards the end of our trip, we’re sitting in our hotel room watching our guilty pleasure, 90 Day Fiancé. We’re laughing at a couple who got pregnant during their first ever meeting. My husband suddenly says: “If they can do it, so can we”. He says he’s (finally) ready to start trying to get pregnant. I’m in disbelief, but so happy. I feel like I’m falling in love with him all over again.
As we dive into the topic, I tell him that more than anything, I want to bring kind people into the world. He agrees, that’s a good reason to have a baby.
Cost: $13.50 for ovulation testing strips on Amazon.
August 7, 2019
We get back from our trip and I hang out with my best friend, who lives a block away. Turns out, she’s pregnant! After one try! I’m overjoyed. I feel like I’m gaining a new, little, cute family member who I already love even though she’s the size of a bean. But I also feel a pang of jealousy that everyone else seems to have it easier than I do. When I get home from my friend’s, I realize I just started my period. Life, huh?
August 30, 2019
Trip to the OB/GYN & tests
I’m worried that my cycles seem to be irregular, and I’m wondering why I don’t seem to be ovulating every month, based on the test strips I’m using. I make an appointment with my OB/GYN and my husband joins me. We ask her questions about trying to conceive and I express my worries. We tell her we’ve actually been having sex without protection for a year, but haven’t gotten pregnant yet. She seems surprised — it also feels like she’s rushing us through this appointment.
She writes me a prescription for Clomid (a pill that is supposed to stimulate ovulation and help couples to conceive) and gives us a referral for a fertility specialist. I worry that she already thinks we have fertility “problems,” and I’m a bit shocked that she’s just writing me a prescription willy-nilly. She gives my husband a referral for a semen analysis, and says I have to come back for bloodwork to test my hormones to make sure they’re at the right “levels” — whatever that means. I also get a referral for a fallopian tube dye test called a hysterosalpingogram (HSG), which makes sure that my tubes are clear and ready for an embryo to travel through them
I do all the testing, though I don’t take the Clomid. It just doesn’t feel like we’ve been trying long enough to warrant an intervention like this. I’m actually surprised that my OB/GYN prescribes them to me right off the bat. She seems to have justified the prescription with the knowledge that we haven’t been using contraception for a full year. But I believe there’s a difference between having unprotected sex and “trying to conceive.” I’m also a little worried about side effects — I’ve read about intense bloating, mood swings, and nausea… Plus, the increased chances of having multiples. While we would love however many children we have, we don’t want to stack the cards towards having twins or triplets just yet.
I cry during my HSG. I just feel so exposed on a metal table. My husband offered to come with me to this appointment, but I told him there was no need to take time off of work. I hold the nurse’s hand as the doctor inserts the dye into my cervix to go through my fallopian tubes. The HSG hurts and I’m also scared that they’ll find blockage in my tubes. The doctor tells me right away that my tubes are clear. Phew. At least now I have more information — hopefully it quells my worries.
My tests all come back “normal.” Hormone levels are good, tubes are clear — woohoo! My husband’s semen analysis results are mostly good news. The doctor explains that the sperm sample reveals count, movement, and sperm shape (in layman’s terms). His count and movement are good, but he tested on the lower end of the spectrum for viable sperm shape. But the doctor doesn’t seem too concerned about this factor. The doctor suggests he go to a urologist if we want to have further testing done. We decide against going, because we’re just starting to try.
My husband says he’s relieved at first, but the look on his face tells another story. He seems let down. Turns out, more information isn’t always better. Despite what sounds like overall “good” news, I still feel worried and his ambiguous sperm analysis results keep me wondering if we’ll have trouble. After the tests, he buys new underwear that he claims is “looser.” We’ll see if that helps.
Costs: $50 copay for the first trip to my OB/GYN. Insurance covers the rest (but if it hadn’t the HSG would have cost $583, plus a staggering $2,456 for the bloodwork). $15 copay for the Clomid, $13.50 for more ovulation test strips, and $3.50 for a pack of 100 small plastic Solo cups from the corner bodega to pee into. $150 for my husband’s sperm analysis (not covered by insurance), and $16 for four pairs of new underwear from Uniqlo. As far as costs go, it could be worse. At this stage, I can’t justify massive spending on this since we’re still early into our efforts to conceive. I’m keeping my fingers crossed the prices won’t just go up from here.
September 10, 2019
I continue to track my ovulation using test strips. It’s not exactly one of my life’s joys to bring a ziplock baggie to work full of ovulation test strips and little plastic cups for me to pee in, but a girl’s gotta do what girl’s gotta do. I pee in the cup, insert the strip for 10 seconds, then wait to see if a red line indicates that I’m about to ovulate or not. It’s testing for the luteinizing hormone (Lh), which peaks just before ovulation. It’s sort of like a pregnancy test, but for ovulation.
Today, I see a line! Yay! I blurt out to my husband that we “have to” have sex. I probably could have put this to him in a more romantic way. It’s almost as if I’m afraid I’ll only ovulate for 15 minutes, and I want to get that sperm in there before the clock runs out. He’s not in the mood that night, but we do it anyway. I feel guilty, like I made him do something he didn’t want to do. It’s just starting to sink in that “trying” also kind of means “having to.”
September 24, 2019
Our first disappointment
I get my period and I’m disappointed. I guess I’m not as lucky as some of my friends. So, we try again. This coming cycle, my husband and I have sex every other day and every day during my five-day fertile window. I consider it a victory that I even caught a positive ovulation test. We’ve never had so much sex in our lives. We’re exhausted, but hopeful. It sort of feels like we went from zero to 100 with all of this.
Cost: $14 for tampons and pads. I feel defeated when I buy them at the pharmacy.
November 1, 2019
I can’t hold it together
My mom and step-dad come to visit around the time when my next period should start. I’m late, and I’ve started fantasizing about getting a positive pregnancy test — all while my mom’s in town. Imagine the celebration!
After she arrives, I take the test in my bathroom, and it’s negative. I give myself a mental pep talk, then walk out of the bathroom, telling myself to act normal. As I approach the kitchen and see my mom, though, I lose it. I cry, and she consoles me. In her typical tough-love fashion, she tells me to take a break from trying since it seems like it’s really upsetting me. She’s sad, mostly because she can see how much this pains me. I feel like I let her down; I know how much she wants to be a grandmother.
I’m devastated and simply cannot hold it together during the rest of her visit. They’re staying with us, so I can’t even take a moment to cry privately in our tiny apartment without others noticing.
November 6, 2019
Time to “talk to someone”
No stranger to the world of mental health myself, I seek out a therapist in the wake of the emotional roller coasting that I seem to find myself on. It feels good to lay it all out there. I express my sadness and fears around conceiving. I talk about how I feel like my whole world hinges on “hope,” right now. It’s an odd thing, to have to hold on to hope, and not something more concrete. I’m really clicking with the therapist, thank goodness, and she orients me towards gratitude and faith in the universe’s timing.
Cost: $175 out of pocket for one visit. So far, I’ve spent $1,400 total on weekly individual therapy since I began going to help me manage all my feelings regarding trying to conceive.
November 18, 2019
I’m expecting another long and irregular cycle. I’m not quick to jump back to the routine of testing for ovulation. I feel a bit lethargic and have some cramping on day 12 so I decide to take an ovulation test. It comes back positive and I’m shocked; in past cycles, the earliest I ovulated was on day 21. I immediately text my husband and tell him that once I’m home from work, we should get intimate. This time I’m more fun and enthusiastic. He is, too, and I can tell he appreciates the notice. We have a ton of sex every day for the next four days. I’m hopeful that maybe the spontaneity of catching my ovulation is a sign that this will be “the time.”
Cost: $26 for more ovulation test strips.
December 1, 2019
In my head
A couple weeks later I start my period and bawl for a full day. I admit to myself that my overarching feeling is that something is missing in my life. I feel bursting with love, yet feel like I have no where to direct it. Sure, I get validation and feel compassion in my work as a counselor, but the more I see parents who seem too bothered to care for their kids, the more I’m reminded that the world is not a fair place.
No matter which way you spin it, I’m disappointed. I feel like a failure, and like I’ve let down my entire family. I don’t want to see anyone and feel hypersensitive to people asking or wondering if I’m pregnant. I acknowledge that this is all in my head, and no one is tracking my pregnancy attempts but me. But my logic does nothing for my volatile emotions. A few days later, my step-mom sends me a video of my dad playing with some of his grandkids at our house. They are fighting for his attention and all jumping on his lap at once. I sob and wonder if my children will ever have a chance to do that with him.
December 6, 2019
Coping with not getting pregnant this past cycle has been hard for me. The first time, I was very sad for a full day and then things slowly got better. This time, I’m feeling lower overall even as time passes. I feel sad a lot, and I’m scared a lot. I notice that my husband’s still very positive, but I can see in his face that even he’s starting to wonder why this isn’t as easy as it has been for his friends with kids (many of them have told us that they got pregnant on the first try). I ask him out loud, “Why isn’t this happening for us?” We both just look at each other. We’ll keep trying.
Total Costs: $1,976.50
Reflection: These days, I find myself being able to let go, bit by bit, of my desire to control the timing of all this. This is a monumental life event, and I know I need a release from the pressure I put on myself to get pregnant — and to please others. I’m trying to surrender to my lack of power here, which also means redirecting my tendency to seek comfort in control.
Deeper love is growing in our marriage because of all of this, and our appreciation for a future child is a reality, rather than just an idea. I’m still in therapy, and I really do think it’s helping to keep me in the headspace of love and gratitude. We’re putting in the work and, if history is any indicator, hard work yields the greatest rewards.
The Clomid pills are still sitting in my medicine cabinet. I’ll use them during a cycle when I truly feel at the end of my emotional bandwidth. We’re open to fertility treatments down the line, if we must, but we’re still not there yet. Given my work, I also want to explore fostering and adoption, but I’ve imagined that happening after at least one pregnancy. My husband and I are determined to have a child to love and protect, no matter how long it takes.
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