A “late start” on The Timeline

I was 31 when I got married, my wife 28- much later than the typical “Utah County Mormon” timeline. We’d each heard “when ya gonna get married?” plenty of times, as if choosing a spouse is like buying a car. Just go find one you like and sign the papers. Done.

But finally, sweet tender mercies, we found each other, got married, and started our life together in Lehi, Utah.

About a month later we saw my friend Adam and his wife in the produce section of the supermarket.

“Have you read the book we gave you yet?” Adam asked.
“Not yet.”
“Read it. Read it together! It’s thought provoking, and will do wonders for your relationship.”
“Will do. I’ll let you know what we think.”
“So when you gonna have kids?” He asked.

And I’m serious. That was literally his next question. We’d only been married a month. He knew that because he had gone to our reception.

I paused for a second.
“Oh, I don’t know Adam… Hopefully 9 months from this morning.” Followed by a sideways smile, winks, and a couple of those awkward fake elbow motions towards my wife’s ribcage.
It totally caught my wife off guard, and she stammered out an embarrassed comment–probably apologetic or something. We all got a good laugh, parted ways, and wished each other well.

That was the first time I realized that within the Mormon community, the you-need-to-follow-the-timeline question of “So, when you gonna get married”, had simply been replaced with “When you gonna have kids?” But we didn’t care. We were newlyweds. Plus, I was the last of 9 kids to get married, and ALL of my siblings were married with kids…so it was only natural to hear that question 10 times or so at family gatherings. We took it in stride because we knew everyone meant well, even though we laughed at how really personal that question was (more on that later).

We had fun with The Question–developing several replies:

    1. The Fake Argument: “I don’t know, maybe when SOMEONE decides he is ready to be a FATHER.” followed by, “Well maybe SOMEBODY should start cleaning up after herself!”
    2. The Worldly Answer: “Maybe after we save up enough money for a boat.”
    3. The Shock the Asker Answer: “Meh… Hopefully never. We don’t like kids.”
    4. The Intimate make-everyone-uncomfortable Answer: “Hopefully 9-months from this morning… eh? Eh? (wink wink)

She’s ready. I’m not.

Six months into our marriage, my wife wanted to start trying. But I wasn’t ready yet. I felt like we should wait a bit. My wife didn’t completely understand why I wanted to wait, so this lead to some minor disagreements. “When you gonna have kids?” transformed from silly question to something personal and invasive. When asked, I was reminded of how I was the one getting in the way, holding things up, whereas if my wife were to be asked–she’d think about how she was ready and I wasn’t.

After 1 year of marriage, I jumped on board, and we officially “started trying”.

A few months go by, and my wife still isn’t pregnant. Maybe because we were getting The Question so often, or maybe we felt some pressure because we got what our local society had deemed to be a “late start”, but for whatever reason, we felt incredibly impatient. We tried all the timing methods, but nothing happened. So we saw a doctor who told us some statistics about conception which calmed us down quite a bit. Basically, if everything is working right, you still only have (around) 20% chance of getting pregnant even if everything is timed perfectly. (I can’t remember the exact percentage, but it was along those lines). The woman who gets pregnant from the first attempt is actually an anomaly not the norm. The doctor told us to relax and continue trying, but that after 8 more months we still weren’t pregnant, then we would do some tests.

After a year of trying

A year flew by, and my wife was still not pregnant. We’d been married for 2 years, and had been asked The Question seemingly thousands of times. It was now a reminder of the disappointment we felt each month. We stopped having as much fun with the answers, and would say things like “As soon as Mother Nature cooperates”, or “As soon as God wants us to” with an almost resigned nature.

My wife’s sister, who got married within a few weeks of us, was pregnant for the second time. I think from washing their clothes together or something, they are seriously that fertile. My wife’s friends seemed to all be getting pregnant with ease. It seemed our whole neighborhood was pregnant. As Mormons, we are very family oriented–and having kids was a big part of that. We didn’t want to miss out.

I remember one time a woman in the ward we barely knew was talking to my wife:

Lady we barely knew: “When you going to have kids?”
My wife: “Well, we’re trying…”
Lady we barely knew: “Wait, how old are you?”
My wife: “Uh… 30?”
Lady we barely knew: “Well, maybe that’s the problem.”

My wife told me about it after church, shaking her head a little that someone would treat the age of 30 as the age of barrenness.

A word on procreation and family planning

Let’s take a break from my story and think about how personal the subject of family planning is:

Procreation itself not only involves the highest level of intimacy and the most private of private parts, but all kinds of other highly personal factors. From the very painful ones such as infertility, impotence, or miscarriages, to awkward topics like finances, or perhaps the contention that could arise from one spouse being super ready while the other is dragging their feet. We’ve all heard that each couple has that one recurring argument–and differing priorities on family planning can be one of the most sensitive and raw arguments a couple can have.

Getting the test results

After 2 years of trying with no success, we did what we were nervous to do, started getting tested.

Not long after, we were told the news we’d been dreading–though not necessarily the way we thought it would come.  I was completely infertile. As in ZERO. I emphasize zero because some men can have a low count… mine was zero.

I was devastated.

It was like someone had punched me in the solar plexus, and not only knocked the wind out of me, but had injected my entire body with an overwhelming feeling of inadequacy. My wife was in tears as she told me the results. I just remember feeling like my face was literally numb. I also remember trying to snap out of it, and made this hollow attempt at putting on a brave face. It was awful.

Shortly after that, we went to a Urologist that supposedly specialized in fertility issues, so we could get a bigger picture. He sent his assistant in to tell the news at first, but I insisted on hearing directly from him. So he came in begrudgingly and sat across that poorly lit room and told me I had “testicular failure”, and it was irreversible. I remember facing that Urologist trying to keep eye contact as if to show I could handle it, as bit by bit I felt my masculinity peeling away. 3 years before that, I’d been diagnosed with low Testosterone–and this visit had completed the trifecta of “Worst News for Guys”: Low Testosterone, Testicular Failure, and Sterility. Awesome. I felt like my last shred of manliness melted in the room of that Urologist. It was all I could do to keep from crying like a little boy. My wife described it much later as watching in horror as she could see my soul absolutely crushed.

I kept asking what our options were, and he said “Adoption or a donor. A donor is the cheapest way to go. But just never tell your kid or anyone else. Take it to the grave.”

We didn’t know what to think. So we didn’t discuss it at all for several months. As in, at all. We didn’t even mention it. A Molotov Cocktail had been thrown at our “Plan”–completely destroying it, and the despair was too heavy to discuss making a new one.  We dove into every form of  distraction possible, retreating into our self protection zone–we traveled, we worked, we hung out with friends… we never talked about having a baby.

At this point, “When you gonna have kids” became very painful to hear. As did some children references at church–the testimonies about having children, and being blessed with children, and how happy they are and how much God loves them because of the children they were sent, etc etc…. (I wish I was kidding about that last point) And now, it seemed like those talks and testimonies happened all the time. Kind of like when you have a sunburn and everyone seems to want to pat you on the back.  This sunburn just stung of  inadequacy.  Church became  a big source of pain and insensitivity at times.

We were super private about what was happening, so no one around us knew that when they were asking The Question, they were reminding us of something that could potentially never be. It took me about a year to become ok with the idea of using a donor for my side. Don’t ask me why it took me that long, it just did. It just felt weird, and when it comes to fertility, infertility, family planning, etc–there are all kinds of emotions that express themselves differently for each person. A few days after we started shopping for a donor, my wife was hospitalized for severe abdominal pain. Ultrasounds revealed an ovarian cyst the size of a grapefruit.

Emergency surgery.

After the surgery, the doctor showed me the photos. Endometriosis. Bad. As in, so bad, the ovaries were almost destroyed, but not removed in case there was a chance they could still function.  But he warned me that my wife had a very slim chance of ever having a child of her own, due to how bad the Endometriosis had gotten, and how bad the damage had been.

All this time I’d been the infertile partner in our marriage, and now it was likely the two of us. Our backup plan of using a donor was eliminated. Scratched off the list of possibilities.

The fragile walls I had built up as a coping mechanism came crashing down. Obliterated. And we went through an even more hopeless time. Fortunately, this wouldn’t last as long.

Let’s take another break from my story to make the final point to my post:

As I’ve said, family planning is super personal. And infertility is massively painful. Just remember that asking someone you don’t know too well about when they are going to have kids is far more personal than asking how much credit card debt they have. You have no idea what the couple is going through in that area of their lives.

My suggestions?

    1. Don’t ask. It’s frankly none of your business. It’s as personal as asking how often they make love, and you’d never dream of asking that question. So don’t ask, let them bring it up if it comes up.
    2. The culture within the church needs to change to be mindful of those who might possibly be in your group or congregation who are struggling with infertility. So don’t ever make statements that may make those with fertility issues feel excluded. “Unless you have a child of your own, you’ll NEVER understand the true love of a child” (true story). “Until you’re pregnant, you’ll never understand what it means to truly bond with your child…” etc etc–because maybe someone in that group just got the news that they will NEVER get pregnant. Just remember, not everyone is following your timeline, and not everyone CAN follow your timeline–but would love to.
    3. If you find out that someone is struggling with infertility, please please please love them with everything you got. Hug them if you can. Cry with them if you can. A dream of theirs just got shattered and taken away. Yes, there’s adoption, but let them accept that later on. Be with them NOW, as if they’d just lost a loved one. Trust me, whatever brave face they are showing you is trying to hide some serious pain of all kinds.

Epilogue to my story:

Here is where I give mad props to my wife. She did not give up. After seeing about 6 different doctors, she still researched until she found a specialist in male infertility up at the U of U (Named Dr Meikle–not sure if he’s still practicing, but I highly recommend him if he is). We scheduled an appt, and we tentatively went to see him. At this point, I’d been on Androgel for low testosterone for 4 years. He took me off it right away. Said that in some rare cases, that can kill sperm count. He took some other measurements too, and found that other things were high that should have been lower. He warned me that going off artificial Testosterone would make me “feel lousy”, which was the biggest understatement of the year–but that’s a story for another time.

The entire process of working with Dr Meikle took about 9 months. This involved going off Androgel for a few months, having bloodwork done, going on other medications, having bloodwork done etc.

At the end of all of this I got measured again for swimmers….  which timeline-wise, was about a month after my wife’s surgery where we found out her ovaries were destroyed.

I was producing normal…. 106 million. So my body was all systems go.  Now it was my wife’s turn to get bloodwork done, dye tests, more bloodwork, etc. Miraculously, in the middle of all of these tests, my wife became pregnant. With mine and her genetics, totally natural. We were ECSTATIC to say the least! We had a boy 7 months later (he came a little early) and named him Matthew–which means “Gift from God”. I’m actually hesitant to include that, because remember wondering why God would bless others with children and not us, but we would have named him that regardless of how he came into our lives–adoption, a donor, 2 donors, etc.

17 months later, Matthew’s little sister arrived. We’re now a family of 4.

I don’t attempt to speak for all issues that can cause infertility. There are dozens of potential causes. In our specific example, it was the medication Androgel that I used (don’t ask me why at least 6 different doctors, including specialists, saw that on my chart and didn’t take me off of it) which told my pituitary to stop producing testosterone and dropped my count to zero.

And I know that our total of 4 years of trying, and 3-ish of thinking we were infertile pales in comparison to what others have gone through.

But the pain is very real. It’s crushing, discouraging, disheartening pain…. and if anyone reading this is going through the pain of infertility I just want you to know you are loved, and I wish I could give you a hug right now. I feel for you. It’s an awful feeling, and I pray for peace for you to get through it.

 

Douglas resides in Utah County and loves his home teaching assignments and wears white shirts to church, most of the time. But he rarely buttons the top collar, so let’s face it, is he really there for the right reasons? He can be reached at cdc1043 at gmail, you know the rest…

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