After years of infertility, this story shares a man’s perspective having just completed a first round of IVF.
I always thought my wife would wake me, positive pregnancy test in hand. We’d turn into a mush of tears and relief. I held that thought for years, fighting to believe despite month after month of disappointment.
But then our infertility doctor called. I was at work and Lindsey waited all day for me to get home so we could listen together. After two years of deep breaths, injections and empty hope, we finally heard the words:
“Congratulations, you’re pregnant…”
In the coming weeks, life felt possible again. No more hurting each day about whether we could ever create a life. Now we could say “the baby,” not “a baby.” We could say when, not if. We had succeeded in plucking this little cluster of cells from the nothing. We had set it in motion to become a person. Our person.
In the first week, we went for groceries and Lindsey gravitated to the maternity clothes.
“Don’t judge me,” she said, still careful to believe and waiting for bad news.
“Let’s not be afraid,” I said. “We deserve to be stupidly hopeful right now.”
When I saw its heartbeat, I began to believe again. There and then, as I watched that pulsing point of light on the screen, I knew, at long last, everything would be OK again.
When we got home, I pinned the ultrasound photograph to the fridge. I stood gazing at it there, lined up next to wedding announcements and friends in photo booths; fond yesterdays juxtaposed with a new tomorrow.
At two months, we had the next ultrasound.
“Hey little bear!” I said as we waited for the technician. “I know you’re in there.”
“It doesn’t have ears yet,” Lindsey said.
The door swung open and technician dimmed the light. Lindsey shifted forward on the butcher paper. Our baby’s light pulsed like a satellite and the room rang with that unforgettable heartbeat sound.
The tech focused on getting her photos.
“Ok,” she said. “I’ll just have you head out to wait for the midwife.”
We sat in the waiting room looking at the photo, trying to keep our joy to ourselves, as we had kept our pain. Others sat in the room with dark unknowns that we knew all too well. We had been them, adrift at sea.
“Lindsey and Paul,” the midwife called out. “Right this way.”
She led us back to a small room.
“How are you feeling, Lindsey?”
“Little nausea, but good overall.”
“So I don’t want to cause alarm, but we’re seeing a bit of extra fluid in the baby’s chest cavity.”
Lindsey heard sirens go off. “Should we be worried?”
“We’re not sure what it is, but you can’t be too careful. So we’re gonna get you in to see a specialist tomorrow.”
For the next twenty-four hours, I convinced myself it was all gonna be OK. We had been through too much. This was our baby. Everything would be fine.
“They’re just being careful,” I told Lindsey. “They’ll take their look. It’ll be nothing. We’ll move on.”
“You’re probably right,” she said, wanting to believe. “We’ll take it one step at a time.”
We had gotten good at taking steps. That’s all you can do with infertility. There are no assurances, only steps to take. And the next step led us back to the ultrasound room with the lights dimmed. We held on to one another as the wand went inside Lindsey. She felt its cold eyes searching and her grip tightened.
“I’m sorry,” the tech said.
“No!” Lindsey whispered.
“I’m sorry to tell you this, but the heart has stopped.”
“We just heard it yesterday.”
“We heard it,” I said. “Can we just turn the sound on, maybe—”
The tech knew better, but complied. Now we heard a new unforgettable sound—a hollow vacuum sound pulling the air from the room.
“I just need to get a few more pictures and then I’ll give you a moment.”
I never thought so much could change so fast.
We were alone again, two fragile little people adrift and holding on for life. We had both had sinking moments those last years. But nearly always, one was strong enough to pull the other back up.
Not that day. That day we drowned together.
“It’s just chromosomal bad luck,” they told us in their speak. “Your baby was incompatible with life.”
The following day I went to the woods to feel the whole and genuine meanness of life. I sat in the shadows, on the splintered remains of a fallen maple tree beneath the midday sun.
Just across the road, another world away, I heard children playing baseball.
“Here it comes!” the coach said before the unmistakable aluminum thunk. “Last one, last one.”
And there I sat, crying onto the ultrasound photograph. Now the only proof of our baby would fade to yellow in a box in an attic.
“It died in me,” I kept hearing Lindsey say. “And it’s gonna have to come out.”
Soon came the sedation and the distant whirring of the vacuum that went on for months.
They say the blood should stop in a few days. Why hasn’t it stopped? I think I’m going to need therapy. That’s a good idea. They say I need to go back into the ER. They didn’t get it all. They’re giving me meds to force it out. Paully, the pills didn’t work. I don’t want to go under again. I’m her husband; I want to be in there. I don’t think I can any more. Let’s just breathe for now. Stay with me, will you? Of course.
Finally, they said we could move on and try again. We weren’t ready, but we needed to take the next step.
A month passed with twice-daily shots to ready her body for the next round of IVF. They had just one more check before the transfer. And in that check, after five months of drugs and procedures, they found more tissue from the miscarriage. Lindsey would now need to go back in and back under for a third surgery.
Just five more hours under. Take the steps and go on together alone. Because everyone wants to see baby pictures. No one wants to hear this story. But we needed to tell it.
“D’ya have a good weekend?” my colleague asked.
“Honestly, no. And to lie to you would only make it worse.”
“We’ve been going through a miscarriage.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry. Come here and give me a hug.”
My coworker had been there himself. And later, as I told more people, two others had as well. So for the next days I kept talking about it. And the more I talked about it, the more love surrounded me. Soon I was given books on grief and cards and flowers came to our door.
Only in talking about infertility did I discover it was all around me. Only in talking about it did I learn we were not alone.
I’m sorry I didn’t talk about it sooner.
Paul Feiner is a writer and digital marketer from Minneapolis. As a loving husband and new father, Paul tells the untold stories of marriage and parenting as a man.