No Guarantees!

People talk about how wonderful it is to experience natural childbirth.  How it will change your life. No one really talks about the process of becoming a parent.  How much time and effort is actually involved in the process. And no one speaks about the level of persistence and the amount of time required to actually get pregnant.   For my wife and I, our journey to becoming parents began ten years ago.  

Not unlike other people, we wanted to have children the natural way.  We figured one-part her, one-part me, a little flour, and some sugar; put it in “the oven” for nine plus months and pull out an adorable, perfectly baked, chunky little muffin whose toes you just want to soak in butter and eat with a spoon.  So we tried for several years from the time we went on our honeymoon in 2010. Unfortunately we just couldn’t quite pull off that blue ribbon recipe.  

We discussed our situation with each other and decided to try a more scientific method for having children.  At this time I was 41 and she had, well, less years on this planet than me, and we, obviously, weren’t getting any younger.  My wife bought an ovulation kit and we started the systematic measuring of time between menstrual cycles. Tick-Tock! Not just days but hours as well. Tick-Tock!  There were days when we had to perform multiple times. Had to!  Tick-Tick-Tick-Tock!  We, well she, tracked her cycles down to the second.  Tick-Tock! She knew the exact calculation of days until the best possible time.  Tick-Tock! It’s just that over the short amount of days, (Tick), we began to feel very rushed as time moved forward, (Tock).  

We tried your typical Western medications and some natural methods that were less expensive than seeing a specialist.  But nothing seemed to work. At some point during 2012 my wife scheduled an appointment with Dr. Michael at the Center for Reproductive Medicine and Surgery in Bloomfield Hills to get a professional opinion.  This, for me, was embarrassing. Not super-embarrassing, but the kind of feeling you get when you get off the elevator on the wrong floor. Sure, you step out with confidence but then it hits you that you’re on the wrong floor and immediately you begin to feel like you are a few clowns short of a circus, so you casually look back and forth until the doors close, in an attempt to hide the fact that apparently you just don’t know what you’re doing.  I mean, seeing a doctor to do something our bodies should, by nature, know how to do. Who does that? Well – apparently we do. 

First the doctor checked my wife for any “irregularities”.  After multiple tests inflicted upon her, he told us she suffers from PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome) and was also insulin resistant.  PCOS is where multiple non-cancerous cysts form on a woman’s ovaries. It’s actually quite common. Of course I had never heard of this before.  Due to these complications, we were informed she would have some difficulty getting pregnant and there could be “complications”, which didn’t exactly explain anything.  Seriously, it’s getting pregnant, what is there to it? People do it all the time, and, by accident even. You know, Prom, Tequila, a little wham bam thank you ma’am. Easy right?  So why couldn’t we get pregnant? 

Dr. Michael spoke to us about other, more expensive, methods stating, several times, there were “no guarantees.”  So we continued trying with the fertilization medicines to see if those would work first. One of the methods we tried was where my wife had to give her self injections in her stomach.  For me it was disconcerting to watch her jab that needle into her belly each time; however, with some luck, she became pregnant after several sessions.  

We were elated and immediately told everybody we knew.  We celebrated with our families and boasted about it on Facebook.  This was awesome! We were going to be parents! After all our trying and praying and waiting.  Woo-hoo! We received tons of congratulations through social media, phone calls, and text messages.  Everyone was so nice about our success. It was a great couple of weeks – until her stomach began to ache.

My wife was working nights at the time.  While she was at work, she began menstruating and she noticed blood spotting, which is possible in the first months of pregnancy.  But, she also felt a sharp pain in her side. She left work around 2:00 a.m. or so, to come home earlier than normal.  Once home, she decided to take a bath. While in the bathtub she was stretching and noticed another really sharp pain in her side.  At this point she almost passed out from the pain. So she got out of the tub and collapsed on the cold tile floor. 

About an hour later she started feeling better and got up to go make something to eat, thinking her blood sugar might have been low.  Finally she came to bed around 3:30 a.m. Still sleeping, I was unaware of anything regarding her situation. When she laid on the bed her shoulder began to hurt.  Fortunately she knew this was a sign of a possible tubal rupture because she either read about it or was told by the doctor that this was a possibility and what some of the symptoms were.  More than likely if it was a tubal rupture, she had internal bleeding. As far as this goes, blood in your veins, good. Blood in your body, not so good.

She woke me up, told me, and I immediately got dressed.  I have to admit that I was scared to death because without knowing all of the ramifications I didn’t know how much time we had.  It took a bit to get her into the car but, without further hesitation, we rushed to the University of Michigan Hospital in Ann Arbor.  We lived in White Lake so it took some time to get there and I remember the worry I had on the drive. She was in pain and I couldn’t do anything to help her, so I prayed silently to God, to make sure the love of my life would be ok.  I don’t recall exactly what I said, but I do remember being selfish and telling Him that if it was between her and the baby, I didn’t care about the baby. My wife is my world. Enough said.

By the time we arrived at the Emergency Room she was in great pain from the blood going into her body and from the slowly exploding fallopian tube.  To me, her pain would be like having someone push a knife into your abdomen, slowly, over a long period of time and each bump the car had gone over was like a slight twisting of the handle.  She said “it was horrible.” They performed an ultrasound but weren’t able to do anything to help her for several hours. In retrospect I believe they assessed her fairly quickly; however, at the time it wasn’t fast enough.  We did explain to them what we thought the situation was so they responded as fast as they could. They gave her morphine for the pain, but they couldn’t do much else because she had eaten and anesthesia could cause nausea during an operation, which would further complicate the situation.   

They checked her for the pregnancy right when we arrived but found that her “numbers” were already dropping rapidly.  I don’t pretend to know what “numbers” are, but I know based on most scores, higher is better except when it comes to blood pressure or cholesterol readings.  For the rest of the hospital experience I remember only bits and pieces because I was there alone. I know that it had been too early for me to wake family up but I also knew she was in good hands so the fear of losing her was pretty much gone at this point.  Unfortunately, I stayed the rest of the night there by myself. Alone. I had never felt so alone. It’s ironic that in trying to increase the size of our family we could have quite possibly caused it to become smaller. A reality I didn’t want to face, especially alone in the waiting room.  I recall crying to myself in the room and I also recall being angry over the situation and wanting to break something.   

By the time the doctor had come out to see me and explain that they had to remove one of my wife’s fallopian tubes I wasn’t thinking straight.  Before my wife came home that night I had gone to bed around 11 or 12 so I was only on about four hours of sleep and didn’t quite comprehend what that meant for us overall.  Her personal care physician had told her that her tubes were fine. Her PCP performed a test on her involving some type of dye and a balloon. They blew the balloon up inside her uterus and watched the dye flow through the tubes.  The pregnancy, however, did not “flow through the tubes.” This pregnancy happened within the tube. The embryo caused the tube too rupture so they removed both the tube and the baby. There was no option to save the fetus.

The medical community calls it an ectopic pregnancy miscarriage.  All I knew was that my wife was pregnant and now she wasn’t and it would be even harder to get pregnant again, since the female body switches the side it allows pregnancy to happen in every other month.  We finally went home sometime that next day. My wife was a mess and I wasn’t much better. I was always taught that a man holds in their feelings to be strong. That’s how I grew up. But I wasn’t as strong as I needed to be.  Again, enough said.  

We were together in our shared sorrow and misery and we had just jumped over another roadblock on a journey we never would have imagined being on; although, at this moment we didn’t know where this would eventually lead us.  Of course it took more time for us to get over this major setback. We eventually did. Again. For the most part.  

In 2013 we started the insemination process with Dr. Michael.  This was, by far, my most favorite part because of my contribution to this whole thing.  I know you can’t read the sarcasm in that statement, but believe me, it’s there. We had to schedule appointments around my wife’s ovulation schedule again.  So my contribution was supposed to be the fun part of this whole operation; however, I’m not sure if it was as much fun as it should’ve been because I had mixed feelings about the whole process.  

How would you feel going into your doctor’s office, which was always filled with either the women who worked there or female patients, knowing what you had to do there?  I was literally paying a doctor so that I could come into his office and masturbate in one of his rooms. This was something I could actually do in there for free, if I wanted to get arrested.  Well, as far as I was concerned, EVERYONE knew what I was about to do. I was going to choke the chicken, flog the dog, bash the bishop, whack the pud, do the dirty deed, you know, go on a date with Rosey Palmer and her five sisters in a little 6 by 8 room.  Seriously, as are those statements, this was also slightly disturbing.

Insemination and in vitro fertilization were, for me, the same process.  I would go into the office and do “my thing”. The difference between each was in the doctor’s processes and the cost to us.  Insemination was just my sample shot into my wife with a turkey baster. That’s how it was explained to me. The process for my sperm was that they had to “wash” it and then check it for viability.  In my head I reverted to a two year old and made a few disgusting jokes, to my wife, for how the washing process was done (swish, swish, swish…don’t swallow). I thought they were funny but she didn’t seem to appreciate my humor; however, at $4000.00 a pop for the insemination process, I needed some angry humor to get through this first phase.  I found out later this part was actually way more intense than I could have ever imagined. Not as crazy as the in vitro steps were though. Unfortunately the two insemination processes we went through didn’t work so we moved on to the next, more expensive, phase.

The in vitro fertilization process was the most invasive.  They gave my wife the means to have a bunch of eggs produced during her ovulation cycle.  We could only afford to do this two times. The cost for each cycle was just over $10,000.  We had explained to the doctor that we needed to take out a loan since we blew our savings on the first processes we went through and the other “incidentals” that came up with them, not to mention we had just purchased a new house the year before taking the last of the money we had saved.  In short, we were broke. From this point, almost literally, all of our eggs were in one basket. The first time she produced 36 eggs and the second time just 11. They took the eggs and the washed sperm and put them together to create multiple embryos. A genetic sampling process happens which will decide who the survivors are and of those survivors who will be used.  

All of this really defies the laws of nature and this seems to go against how God intended things to be.  Seriously, nothing about this process says “this is normal.” Again, not one bit of this was guaranteed to work.  The first time we only had two or three survivors out of 36. After insertion, my wife took a pregnancy test which read positive, but this time we decided to keep it to ourselves.  We didn’t want to inform anyone because we didn’t know what would happen and wanted to be sure, unlike last time. Five weeks in she had a miscarriage.  

We were devastated, but we had one more opportunity.  With the tubal pregnancy she was pregnant for six weeks so this, much more expensive process, didn’t last as long and in my simple mind I thought if you pay more you should get more.  However, it appeared that our overall “numbers” were trending in a downward fashion again. When we were ready we went back for our last time. I went in and did “my thing,” but this time her part was different.  

The doctor requested to see both of us during my wife’s visit.  I had already felt this wasn’t a good thing and my wife had her reservations as well.  He greeted us with as much enthusiasm as he typically did. We entered his extremely large office and sat at a small round table as he began explaining to us that none of the sperm, or eggs, survived the processes this time.  My wife was already in tears and I became upset because she was upset.  

With our backs physically to the wall at the little round table he explained how the process had failed and how we have our “issues” but, and this is the part that almost made me jump over the table and feed him his stethoscope through his sphincter, we “…should come back and keep trying.”  He must have said it three or four times. “You need to try again and don’t stop trying.” I could feel my ears turn red yet at the same time my throat was closing up. I could feel the tears welling which made me even more angry.  

Sure, in his world $10,000 isn’t a lot of money.  But for us, this was it. We had already explained this to him in our initial consultation months before!  He should have remembered! I wanted to kill him! My wife was crying, and again, I needed something to break!  We just spent you $28,000. We didn’t have any more money to spend on this “no guarantees” quack doctoring! And he made it quite clear.  There were “no guarantees”. I put my arm around my sobbing wife and exited his office. We drove home in complete silence. This was going to be harder to recover from than anything we had already been through in the past.

Eventually we did go through an inner healing process to get past this major setback.  We have each other to get us through the tough times. We decided to look at our other options so we looked into the invasive and confusing adoption process and eventually settled on foster care.  On February 10, 2017 we became foster parents to an adorable little 7 month old baby girl. She just celebrated her third birthday this past July and her smile brightens our lives each and every day.  And that is guaranteed!

(Not) Without You

At the age of 50 I have finally graduated from University. I wasn’t “smart” enough to go when I graduated from High School. I was too busy having fun. Overall, I’m very glad that I was finally able to complete this milestone of my life. It has to be said that this achievement only came to me because of my wife. She carried me through this journey and if it wasn’t for her I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish as much as I did.

Going to college is hard enough at any age. Of course, the older one gets the more difficult it becomes to complete because life gets in the way. Work, wife, kids, holidays, family gatherings, and friends. It all piles up on us and before you know it you’re 50 years old and thinking about the AARP and retirement.

Three years ago my wife and I became Foster parents. I was attending school at the time and decided to drop out so that we could acclimate the little 7 month old girl into our home and our lives. I was registered for classes and went to the first few in January but I dropped before the first deadline so that I wouldn’t have to pay for the classes (roughly $2k for each class).

As I mentioned, I didn’t go to college after High School. It took me years before I would go. It was around the time the Trade Center was attacked. Just before actually that I had started. I would complete my Associates degree in Business Management around 2005. I took my credits over to University and accepted whatever they would acknowledge.

At that time I was single and working full-time so I paid cash for the classes I had already taken. I continued that way until my first semester at University was over. I couldn’t afford to do that anymore because the cost was more than double and my workplace wasn’t willing to help pay for school, so I dropped out (seems to be a lot of that in my school history).

Every few years I would try again, but the expense was too much. At that time I wasn’t willing to seek government help because I had heard so many horror stories about student loans and how people ended owing for years and years. So I took, pretty much, a decade off.

I was at my current job when my new G.M. asked me how much I had left to go and he wanted to know why I didn’t finish. At that time my college credits placed me as a Junior. I had 40+ credits I needed to fill to graduate. The G.M. offered to have the company help pay if I would go back. That was 2016. My wife and I had been married for seven years but we didn’t have any children (which is a whole other story). So my wife and I discussed my going back and we worked out how it would go down.

Obviously I would go after work one or two days a week. Then I would need time to study during the week and one day on the weekend. She picked up the slack at the house. Cleaning, washing clothes, cooking meals, and pretty much everything else that needed to be done. I spent most of my time studying because I wanted to get good grades and learn something. I figured that I was paying for it, I might as well take something away from all of it.

Before all of this talk about University even came about we had already been registered to become Foster Parents. Nothing had been happening with that in a few years so I figured that going back to school would only help our status. So I went back in 2016 and did pretty well for that whole year. In January of 2017 we finally heard that there might be a chance that we would receive our first Foster child, so as I mentioned, I stopped going.

In 2018, when I started back up I was told, by the University, that my degree was no longer valid and that I would have to, pretty much, start all over. They wanted to remove all but 40 of the 90 credits I had at that time and set me back to Sophomore status. I wanted to quit altogether but my wife wouldn’t let me. I checked into other colleges and universities but everyone said the same thing…I would have to start all over.

So I “fought” the system. I wrote a letter to the Dean of my college and copied a few other individuals on it. Basically I told them we had just become Foster Parents. I said that it appeared Fostering a child was the worst thing anyone could do for their academic career. I also mentioned, had I known the University would do this, I would have probably sent the little girl packing because apparently Fostering a child doesn’t fall in line with the Universities agenda. I don’t fully recall, but I think I alluded to the fact it might possibly be a good human interest story for local TV.

I received a letter and a phone call asking me to come in and see the Associate Dean of Admissions. The “problem” was quickly resolved and I was admitted, once again, with my full credit standing.

In 2018 I started back. The only issue was cost. The money the company I work for would pay me wouldn’t cover the full cost of this University, so I became a FASFA aficionado. Again, my wife and I discussed this. Being that we had so many more responsibilities with the kid, my going back would leave a VERY large burden on her. She wore the increased burden like a badge.

From 2018 through 2019 I spent an exuberant amount of time studying, writing, and memorizing (where necessary) and in December of 2019 I graduated with High Distinction (Summa Cum Laude) from the University of Michigan. I also received the Honor’s Scholar award, which is an award given to only one recipient in each college of the University for each degree.

If it wasn’t for my wife taking up my slack and encouraging me to do better and to complete what I started I would never have finished. If not for her, none of that would have been possible. When I was graduating I kept looking over at her and, in my head, “my” accomplishment was our accomplishment. I could not have done any of this without her.