If you have been reading this blog for any amount of time, then it is no surprise that J and I are battling through the infertility journey. If you just started reading this, then welcome! And if all of this is news to you – I’m about to give you the rundown. **Heads up, there’s more language in this post than normal, and I talk about the… parts and pieces that go into having a baby. **
J and I got married in October of 2014, and were so excited to get to start our family. There’s never been a time in either of our lives where we didn’t want kids, wholeheartedly. We didn’t completely jump into ‘trying’ until we had been married for about four months, because of his training schedule. Like basically everyone who is in the military, or attached to it, we were aware of the realities of trying to get pregnant when half the equation is unavailable for weeks and months at a time. It didn’t really hit me that we’d need to see a doctor until we hit the year mark, and nothing was happening.
And that is when I realized this was going to be more of an uphill battle than I first anticipated. I fought, in tears several times, to get to be seen in the infertility clinic and was blocked by a PCM (Primary Care Manager or a General Practitioner for the army) who was more interested in getting numbers out than she was about providing solid care. I tried and pushed all the way until my husband left for Afghanistan, and still could not be seen. Defeated, I just gave up on even trying to figure out this process while he was gone. “Normal” infertility-related depression and anxiety was coupled with wondering if I’d get my husband back from the desert, and fighting with a system that seems determined to make you fail.
Somewhere in the trying while we were together, we also decided to move forward with other routes to having children – foster care, and eventually adoption. We were both completely surprised at how much foster care seemed like the ‘right’ path for us – even having never previously considered it. How could we not want to open our homes to kids who needed parents who desperately wanted them?We’re in the beginning of this process – hard to get licensed when J is in and out of the country! But are so excited to get to fight for little ones who need to just be loved fiercely.
We’re currently at a wonderful doctor, who is willing to work with us on our schedule, and is incredibly knowledgeable, and great at handling these sensitive issues – especially when I’m at most of the appointments by myself. But, it has taken every single bit of the last two years to get to this point, and start seeing any progress at all. We’re just now getting to tests that my original doctor should have ordered from the very beginning.
Since we’re making progress, I feel like I owe it to the women who are in this journey with me who are also trying to manage life as a military spouse as well… We’re a subset of a very small community, and there are a few things I wish I’d been told upfront in this journey – long before the first doctor’s appointment.
You Are Going To Feel Alone. Anyone who has gone through infertility can tell you that it is incredibly isolating. One in eight couples goes through some form of infertility. It can be incredibly embarrassing, or just painful to talk about. Being a military spouse can be an absolutely isolating experience all in and of itself – especially if you are a National Guard or Reserve spouse. This was one of the first things I had to learn after J and I moved me up to the frigid north while he was in Afghanistan, and even now when the appointments seem to always fall on a drill weekend. Women I knew who were going through infertility would talk about how their husband couldn’t make it to appointments because of a meeting or something. I wanted to scream – or cry – because mine can’t be there even when he want’s to. It’s incredibly hard to not feel like you’re doing it all by yourself.
Which brings me to…
Find Your Support System – And USE Them. I have to be honest, this was pretty much the last thing I wanted to do. My husband is in and out of my life, and we’re not able to have kids – so make some friends? Heck no! I also thought that I was completely on my own. And then I started paying attention. My best friend has been cheering J and I on since the very beginning – and when I didn’t understand test results she explained them to me, calmly and patiently. And the first time I needed to give myself a shot, J wasn’t around and she willingly (in the middle of her living room) gave it to me, simply because I was too nervous to. My best MilSpouse friend drove me to an incredibly painful test, and sat in the waiting room until I was done, to drive me home. Once we got home, she made sure the dog was taken out, and that I had plenty of snacks within walking distance.
I also got online – and I can’t begin to say how helpful that is. Ladies – we are a subset of an already small community. There are COUNTLESS groups of infertility support groups, and ones specifically made for military spouses going through this journey. It’s been unreal the amount of compassion and information that I’ve gotten from these groups – from a place to vent about how everyone else is pregnant, to the best ways to handle the side effects of the medicines. That may have been the most pleasant surprise of this journey so far; the amount of kindness from strangers, just because my walk looks a little like theirs.
People Are Going To Say Some Really Stupid Stuff. Oh man… Ohhhh, man. This is a doozy. And as much as I don’t like this, it’s kind of a fact of life when you’re an Infertile Myrtle Milspouse. You see, people don’t seem to understand the military. Makes sense – only one percent of the United States’ population is or has been in the military. It’s a weird, weird life and people don’t know how to react. So they say some stupid stuff. (Raise your hand if you’ve had someone ask if you miss your husband…) It’s mostly innocent, and not malicious. With only about 15% of people having gone through infertility, people also seem to say some pretty stupid things about that. (“Why don’t you just adopt?” Why don’t you just shut up?) Going through both at the same time? They’ve got no idea. And it can get very, very hurtful – very quickly. I have had people ask J for medical advice about their pregnancy, even knowing that he is obviously not an OB and that he’s in the middle of infertility. Also – had a woman tell me she ‘understood at least 50% of what I was going through”… after getting pregnant naturally… two days after J left for Afghanistan. She is not a milspouse. Malicious? I don’t think so. Hurtful? Hell, yes. And Sometimes it’s just AWFUL – like the time I had someone ask if I was going to try IVF just so that “If something happened, then it would be like I had a piece of J.”
The thing is – you can choose to freak out (easy option) or you can educate people. Say, “Hey, that’s pretty insensitive – here’s what you can say instead…” There is NOTHING to be ashamed about – you didn’t bring on your infertility, and you shouldn’t have to feel embarrassed about it. And while you absolutely need to make sure you have people around you – you do not have to deal with people who make the journey more difficult!
ADVOCATE FOR YOUR CARE. I really had to resist putting this in size 35 font and making it underlined. There are not enough words for how important this is. Story time…
I spent months trying to get into the infertility clinic at our old duty station. I was supposed to be in a fertility referral appointment that had taken weeks to get into – when my doctor informed me that, actually, I would be getting my yearly PAP. I was ovulating, so J and I had been intimate the night before, and so I spoke up saying that I was concerned about that possibly causing issue for the test. The doctor seemed annoyed and said that no, it would be fine. I had waited for this appointment for WEEKs, so against my better judgement, I agreed to go through with the procedure. A few days later I was told that my results were ‘abnormal’ and that I needed to get a second painful procedure. Not only that, but I would be barred from entering the infertility clinic until after J and I were already going to be moved. I was devastated – heart broken. I decided to take a pause on invasive tests and craziness, and get into my civilian doctor and get the PAP a second time. J and I got into an amazing infertility doctor. I told her how anxious I was, and what had happened previously. She had me take the test, and the results came back perfectly normal. On one hand I was incredibly relieved – but on the other? I now have to wonder all the time if J and I would have our little miracle by now, if I had only pushed harder.
You know your body better than anyone else does! Speak up!
Be On The Same Page As Your Spouse. This could have gone in one of the other points… but I (and J, when he read this later) thought that it should be it’s own. I was mentally in the infertility journey months before J was there with me. Every month when I wasn’t pregnant I was absolutely wrecked, and J just wasn’t there with me. Part of it was because he was too busy, or even gone. And part of it was because I could not find the words to articulate what I needed from him. If you need your spouse to be at appointments, tell him. If that’s not possible, find something that works – a touch base phone call, or an email when they’re deployed.
Your husband loves you, and wants you to be pregnant so badly. He may not be able to truly understand, but I can say based off of J and I that it can be a complete game changer when you are both open and honest about where you’re at. Infertility is awful, and can drive such an emotional distance between people. But there is absolutely no reason for it to wreck your marriage.
Remember To Date Your Spouse. So… I know we all talk about the ‘practice makes perfect’ joke when trying to get pregnant… But can I get real for a second? (If I haven’t already scared you off!) Trying to have a baby… is sometimes the absolute least sexy thing in the entire world. Between the ultrasounds every two weeks, the peeing on ALL the sticks, the horrendous side effects of the meds, and the making sure you have sex IN THE FERTILE WINDOW. (And don’t even get me started on Pre-Seed – I may have possibly scarred one of my best friends for life on that one.) It’s just… all a bit much.
Inevitably you are going to feel like a busted incubator, and your husband will feel like something of a sperm donor. In the hustle and bustle of blood draws and fertility med administration, it’s incredibly easy to not prioritize a date night. And it is absolutely important. Shave your legs (yes, seriously), throw on a cute outfit, and talk about anything BUT doctors appointments. Hell, make a sheet fort and eat pizza and put a ban on any kind of infertility talk. It’s the huge elephant in the room – but it is essential for both of you to ignore it every once in awhile.
This is one of the hardest things for me to do right now. I am so desperately chasing after having kids, that it’s difficult not to get some incredible tunnel vision. Fortunately I married a very spontaneous man, who makes sure that at the very least we have some infertility-free take out Indian food every now and then.
I wish I could get to the bottom of all this and say that J and I have it all figured out – but, again, I’d be lying to your face. Trying to get pregnant and struggling with it is so frustrating. Trying to keep your sanity as a Military Spouse is also really frustrating sometimes. But there can also be amazing good to come out of both – even at the same time.