When we got married, Charlie and I solemnly vowed to care for each other in sickness and health, in good times and bad. I had faith that we would someday face such vague adversity hand in hand, with grace and fierce protection for each other. Or, failing that, at least make a reasonable attempt to circle the wagons.
This is the story of how that plan went to utter crap, and what I learned about my marriage in the process.
A few years into our happy union we decided it was time to add a kid to the mix, fully expecting it to happen the first time we had unprotected sex (my family tree reads like the who’s who of Teen Mom). But months of negative pregnancy tests piled up and stress levels rose. The eventual fertility tests came back with a clear diagnosis: zero sperm. Our specialists offered us a small hope that with the right combination of cash, technology, and luck, we’d still be able to have a half-Charlie/half-me child. But we knew that our dreams of building a family the simple way were over. Overwhelmed with heartache and grief, we slowly moved forward with infertility treatments.
Contrary to what I had hoped on our wedding day, Charlie and I did not thrive in the face of this ordeal. Instead—to my great shame—infertility brought out the absolute worst in us. I was demanding, frustrated, and embarrassingly impatient as we moved through the invasive tests, the surgery, the never-ending rounds of bad news from doctors who could offer us no guarantees. Charlie was withdrawn, depressed, and angry, and he seemed to look for anything at all to attribute his dark emotions to besides his diagnosis: nothing was too insignificant to pick a fight about.
Circle the wagons? Hardly. Our wagons careened in separate directions into the wilderness. Where the weasels live.
Infertility is a frightening road, traveled one crossroads at a time. Will the next test result give us hope? Could this attempt be The One? Do we have enough resources (emotional, physical, financial) to continue? For how long? Each decision needed to be navigated together, yet we each brought to the table our own fears, insecurities, coping mechanisms, and communication styles. Unable to see eye to eye on many of the decisions, it is not difficult to understand how infertility brought two otherwise loving people to a very dark place.
For many months, things continued to fall apart. One night after a particularly bleak fight, I sobbed into Charlie’s chest and voiced my deepest dread out loud: “I’m scared that we’re not going to make it.” Charlie simply hugged me closer. It was then that I experienced a moment of absolute clarity in my heart: the simple realization that even as we faltered as individuals, our marriage itself was a dedicated caretaker, holding us both in its able hands, steadfast and permanent. Of all the gut-wrenching decisions we had to make during that time, there was one decision that never crossed our minds—whether to walk out the door. And while the lack of an opt-out clause in marriage is not a permission slip to treat one’s partner carelessly, it was a great comfort to realize that our commitment was strong even when we as individuals could not be.
With time (and more time), we ultimately chose to pursue the use of donor sperm. Doing so put the confusion, uncertainty, and sense of brokenness behind us, and it is not an overstatement to say that our relationship did an overnight 180°. One night, with the help of couple of generous glasses of red wine and an equally generous sense of humor, we poured over donor profiles and easily agreed on one. Finally ready to move on, we had our happy marriage back, and it felt wonderful.
Our recovery during that time did not, of course, mean that all of our pain had ended. Lying on the table in the doctor’s office, the donor insemination itself hurt like hell (emotionally) for both of us. But we got through it hand in hand, with grace and fierce protection for each other. Just the way I had always hoped we would.
It is beyond incredible to me that the person typing this is now eight weeks pregnant, and my gratitude for that fact is matched only by my gratitude for the marriage that enabled this new life to come about. The misery of infertile purgatory is still fresh, but so is its silver lining: the hard-won knowledge that our marriage is big enough to withstand our imperfections, our fears, our mistakes, our pain. We now face the future—its good times and its bad—with love for each other, hope for our tiny growing child, and faith that our strong marriage will continue to run beneath all we will experience together in life.