Holding my breath: I continued to brace myself for the bad news in our fertility journey
I held my breath every time my wife, Jen White, said, “I’m going to pee on a stick.”
Every time the nurse told her “it might hurt a little,” I held my breath with Jen as her grip tightened on my hand. The pain and discomfort showed on his face.
Each time someone asked us: “When are you going to have children?!” Every time a diaper commercial was on TV. Each time, we were invited to a baby shower. Every time we walked into the fertility clinic…I held my breath.
This is how we lived for more than four years.
Who am I? Nobody special, really. Or are we all special? I’m a graphic designer in St. John’s. I lean towards the creative side of life, “making things pretty” in my day job while focusing on family and friends the rest of my time. I get up every day and do my best to do my best – take care of myself and the people around me. I know that some things are out of my control, so I don’t get too discouraged when things “just don’t work out.”
That’s what was so frustrating about our fertility journey. “Unexplained infertility” is just that: unexplained. I never thought anything could be “unexplained” with today’s medical system – especially something as important and far-reaching as a person’s ability to have a child.
I assumed that after the first round of blood work and samples taken, the doctor would open our file and say, “OK, Neil, you need to eat more grapefruit.” Or “How about going commando most days you’re home?” You know, simple things.
Instead, it was, “We have no idea what’s stopping you from conceiving. … So let’s keep trying all things.”
In a way, it was a relief to know it was out of our control. That it wasn’t “my fault” for a low sperm count, or some other easily identifiable medical issue with myself or Jen. Instead, it was totally unheard of – but not hopeless.
That’s the key to surviving it all: clinging to as much hope as possible. Even the tiniest speck could be the difference between tears or laughter.
Now, don’t get me wrong: there was a lot of tears. Of us two. It’s hard. Nothing about our – or all – fertility journey is easy. But there was also a lot of humor. You need to make the most of things whenever possible to get through this.
So when we decided to seek help, I knew it was going to be difficult, but 99% more for Jen than for me. I knew I had to be there as much as possible, listening to the doctors and nurses and taking notes, writing down appointment times and pill and injection routines – all the fun stuff.
In the end, I really only had one job. But I wanted to be part of this process much more than that. Little did I know that I would also become a field nurse. (Spoiler: I am very competent to administer needles now!)
I tried to be a strong and faithful partner. Jen’s safe place. Try not to show too much excitement – or disappointment. Internally holding my breath every moment. Lying quietly awake at night wondering if tomorrow’s procedure or test result will bring us the joy that so many of our friends and family members experience. Or will it just be another negative result, and we’ll either have to start all over again or move on to bigger and potentially more difficult infertility adventures.
Press the “save” button
Our decision to start recording our journey came quite naturally: Jen, as a reporter, usually tells other people’s stories; and I wanted to share our story with the world. At first, it was more of a personal audio diary, with no real endgame in mind – just knowing that there was no way we were the only ones dealing with these complex thoughts and feelings. We thought we would eventually look back on our experiences and laugh or cry. Or both.
The stream23:08CBC’s One in Six podcast explores a couple’s journey with infertility
We tried to make every recording very natural and in the moment. Leaving a date or just before another needle, we both fell silent and knew each other’s heads while setting up the microphones, wanting to capture all of our thoughts and feelings on tape.
Each of those moments was so special to me and Jen. We spoke from the heart, without holding back too much. (Maybe a scattered expletive or two.)
I’ve learned that when you really stop and think about your situation and your feelings, truly magical moments happen. My relationship with Jen is rock solid, and I’m grateful for that every day. Our fertility journey has tested us more than I could have ever imagined. But talking about all the hard times really helped us not keep anything inside for too long.
I was, and forever will be, very proud of Jen. The courage it took for him to introduce himself to everyone is truly remarkable. She’s the one who got all the needles, pills, scans and exams. Not to mention all the social and emotional stress that has been placed on him throughout our one in six journey.
Find someone to talk to
And now our adventures with infertility are here for the world to hear, with the release of our podcast. I hope you are listening and taking joy, hope and positivity out of it. We are so proud of one in six. It wasn’t an easy project to pull off, as you’ll find out. We have questioned reaching the “record” many times. But we knew it was the right thing to do.
We felt inside that it was necessary to spread our story and raise awareness of the silent, yet heavy weight that so many of us carry every day.
Know that you are not the only one struggling with fertility. One in six people do! That’s a huge number of people. It’s such a scary trip, especially so private. Never be ashamed to ask for help. Know that I am here – even though we don’t know each other – because chances are I can understand what you are going through. Contact me anytime and I’ll be happy to talk about our trip and help you with yours.
I was holding my breath on the eve of the podcast’s release. And now I’ll be here waiting for your reaction to our story – holding my breath once more.
New episodes of one in six release on Tuesdays, until the final episodes are released on November 8. Tune into CBC Listen or wherever you get your podcasts.
Learn more about CBC Newfoundland and Labrador