Thursday, April 28, 2011

National Infertility Awareness Week

It was the summer of 1983, Dave had just graduated from college and gotten his first job in the grain industry.  We were living in western Kansas and had our first house.  It was just a one bedroom, one bath rental, but it had a yard and a dining room and we felt all grown up.  We were on our way to the American Dream:  college (check), marriage (check), jobs (check), dog (check), new car (stupid move, but check), house (check), children...   That crash you heard was our perfect plan falling apart.

This week is National Infertility Awareness Week.  RESOLVE, the National Infertility Association, is encouraging infertility survivors to share their stories.  I know what you're thinking... "Survivor?  Infertility is not a disease that can take your life, like cancer."  And you're right - infertility is not life-threatening, not in the physical sense - but it is a disease to be fought.   Infertility may not directly threaten lives, but it threatens marriages, it threatens self-worth, it threatens hopes and dreams.  That day in the summer of 1983, when we made the decision to begin our family, was the beginning of a battle that would last six years and eight months.  

At first we weren't terribly concerned, lots of couples don't conceive in the first year.  I had been on birth control pills.  Maybe they were just taking a while to clear my system.  But two years passed.  Medical exams divulged no reason I wasn't conceiving.   I felt the beginning of panic.  

More years passed with no babies and no concrete explanations.  A list of issues made conception unlikely, but not impossible.  My irregular cycles, one of the contributing factors, made every month a roller-coaster of counting days, taking my temperature, being "late", then being disappointed again.  Sex became a scheduled event.  I stopped attending baby showers or going to church on Mother's Day.  I hated meeting new people because it inevitably led to the question "Do you have a family?"  I always wanted to answer, "Yes, I have a husband, parents, siblings and tons of aunts, uncles and cousins."   When people questioned our childless state I pretended it was by choice.  There were always "helpful" comments.

  • If you just relax, you'll get pregnant.  
  • I can get pregnant just by passing my husband in the hallway.
  • You're so lucky not to be tied down with kids.
  • What do you do with all your free time since you don't have kids?
  • Try putting a pillow under your butt following sex.  That worked for my husband's third-cousin's best friend.
The list of uninformed and downright hurtful comments was endless.  Sitting in a bar one evening (since we had no family to go home to), Dave and I got into a conversation with  total strangers at the next table.  Predictably, the topic turned to children.  We listened in rising anger as this couple bemoaned every aspect of raising children.  The camel's back broke when one of them said "My cousin just paid $5,000 to adopt a baby.  Can you imagine someone PAYING to get a kid?"  My response, "We would pay double that in a heartbeat for the chance of having a child," was pretty much the end of the conversation.

In fact, while we would gladly have given everything we had, several options were out of our reach financially.  Many of the medical procedures available today were not common twenty-five years ago and certainly weren't covered by insurance.  We made the decision to pursue adoption.  This was pre-internet, so finding options wasn't easy.  We sent letters to several agencies but the responses were not encouraging.  The number of perspective parents greatly outnumbered the newborns being placed for adoption.  In some cases, expectant mothers were treated like athletic recruits, with childless couples offering financial packages and perks to procure a signed contract.  We couldn't possibly compete.

For me, this was the low point.  We had now been fighting this battle for over five years. Lying on the bed, clutching a hope-crushing letter from an adoption agency, I realized it was over.  There was no chance I would be a mother.  If it hadn't happened physically by now, it wasn't going to.  Even my doctor didn't hold out hope any more.  And, based on the letter in my hand, adoption was a fantasy as well.  I cried - painful, wracking sobs - for our loss, for the end of our dream and, mostly, for my failure.  Women are created to bear children, to nurture them, but I couldn't do that.  I was a failure!

Through all the doctor visits, calendar watching, and monthly let-downs, Dave was with me.  He never criticized, he never gave up and he never let it come between us.  He held my hand when he knew I was fighting tears over someone's careless remark.  He did his portion of the medical testing.  He helped research adoption possibilities.  But, even when the tests showed that he also had factors that contributed to our infertility, I still felt it was my failure.  I had let him down.

Then we were blessed by three miracles.  First, we found the Nebraska Children's Home Society.   This fantastic group of people gave us hope again.  They didn't place children to the highest bidder.  They worked with us, educated us, and exposed us to options we hadn't considered.  We began adoption classes and for the first time in six years, I felt hope!  We met other couples sharing our experiences.  We met expectant girls who were facing their own pain.  We even met the Grandmother of a child who had been placed for adoption.  She would never know her first grandchild except through occasional pictures, but she supported the choice her child had made.  Our case worker came for our home visit and we were approved and placed on the waiting list.  Now began the nervous jump at every phone call.  What we didn't know was that miracle #2 was already on the way. 

I was pregnant.  The doctor had no explanation.  Somehow all the "contributing factors" had finally aligned perfectly and we were expecting.  Since I had long since stopped counting days, it took us a couple of months to catch on.  Mitchell was born in 1990, more than eight years after we got married, and over seven years since our quest for parenthood began.  He was followed, just eighteen months later, by miracle #3, Amanda.

Even twenty years later, I still cringe when I hear someone make an insensitive comment about a childless couple, or when a pastor preaches a thoughtless Mother's Day sermon.  I still tear up when I see women oohing and aaahing over a baby while one woman stands apart and feigns disinterest.  My heart still feels the stab just like it did all those years ago.  Infertility is part of our story and we will always have a special compassion for anyone experiencing it.  
If you are one of them, we offer you our love and support.  However infertility may be touching your life - personally, through your child, or through a friend - I am available to listen, console, answer questions and encourage.  You can contact me at  God bless you with your own miracle - in whatever form that may be. 

Find out more about the myths of infertility and how you can get (and give) support by visiting the RESOLVE website.  If you are considering adoption or placing a child for adoption, please visit the Nebraska Children's Home.  A financial contribution to either of these organizations would make a beautiful Mother's Day gift!


  1. Bless you for sharing your story. The worst part of infertility for me has been the fact that people seem ashamed to admit that they had trouble getting pregnant too. I totally see myself in "the woman standing to the side feigning disinterest." You've moved me to tears.

  2. Tami - your story has touched me so much. I had a little difficulty getting pregnant - nothing at all like what you went through - but I do remember the utter despair when I thought it wasn't going to happen. I worked with a lady (my age) and she told me about her journey with infertility. She was never blessed with children and even after 30 year, she cried when she told me about what she had gone through. My heart just broke for her.

    My oldest daughter just blessed me with my first grandchild but it took her 2 years and countless medical procedures to conceive and watching what she was going through is beyond explanation. She was the sweet girl, standing in the background while her co-worker oohed and awed over someones new baby - trying her hardest not to cry or be bitter.

    I am so, so happy that you and your husband were finally blessed with children.....and very, very grateful for the blessings in my family as well.

  3. Thank you so much for stopping by my blog. Your story is absolutely touching. It is truly a testament to how the experience of infertility never really leaves us. There is always a reminder somewhere.

  4. As you know, we lived your story and I will never enjoy Mothers' Day because I can't forget those feelings or ignore my awareness that many people are experiencing now what we went through then. Now, as I stare an empty nest in the face, those memories are a reminder to be happy and thankful for the blessings ... and stop whining about our upcoming "loss". Thank you for sharing and helping me refocus!

  5. Wow Tami what a beautifully heartfelt post. Thank you for stopping by from one infertile family to another, Thank you for taking the time to educate. ;)

  6. Thank you for haring your story (and for your kind post on my blog). To hear my mom talk, infertlity didn't happen 30 years ago. While I know that isn't true, I am saddened by how much harder it must have been, having people being unwilling to talk about it at all. I was particularly moved by the thought of the women cooing over a baby, while one stands back. I know that woman is sometimes me, even though I try not to be. It's good to know someone sees me and knows why. Bless you!

  7. Thank you for leaving such a heartfelt comment on my blog, and for sharing your own story here. I gave you the Versatile Blogger Award for it! Check out for details.

  8. That is a wonderful post, Tami. As a couple without children it always blew my mind the amount of people - friends even - who would ask when we were going to have kids. Why would they assume that we could and didn't? Perhaps we wanted to and couldn't? Or suffered through miscarriages? Maybe we truly didn't want any children but felt guilty about it when others wanted them and couldn't? There are lots of reasons folks don't have kids.

    I think that this is a very personal topic that many keep private rather than say the words aloud to further the pain. So you putting your emotions out there is wonderful. Conceiving a child is not an easy thing for everyone - and not possible for many. I think more people should remember that simple fact before sticking their foot in their mouth.

  9. Wow, Tami, what a wonderful post.

  10. I'm glad your BEA introductions led me to this post. As a woman who was married for 12 years before we had a kid, I got all of the insensitive comments. When I had a miscarriage at 36 I was terrified that we'd waited too long and our chance was gone. We tried for about a year and a half before our little miracle arrived. Those couple of years between the miscarriage and pregancy were so hard. It was hard not to resent the moms of young kids, just a little.
    Too many people think it's their business and are clueless about the emotions that can go along with not being able to conceive. Thanks for sharing your story.

  11. Crying, crying, crying.

    (I found your post via your comment on Love, Laughter and Insanity.)

    We've been married 11 years now. My son was born 6 months ago. I was never on BC, and before we found out I was pregnant, I'd spent the last few years trying to resign myself to being childless. To filling that void. And then once I was pregnant, getting him here, with us, was another trauma.

    Thanks for sharing, indeed.

  12. Thank you so much for sharing your story.

  13. So glad I had at least 1 child Hubby had issues Tried to adopt. Then the girl changed her mind about adoption after we had baby awhile with us . Could not go through that again ripped me up inside . In Utah it was made even worse because they have lots of kids and there comment is YOU ONLY HAVE 1.

    I should have fostered but I get too attached and when they would go back to parents it would kill my heart . So now I teach Sunday school 25 years and at least get to spoil and love them a bit. Grateful for time I have with kids.