My Struggle with Infertility: It’s OK to Stop Treatments

My journey through infertility ended on a warm June evening when I welcomed my daughter into my arms. My husband was there, as were eight other couples we had just met the day before. We were on the seventh floor of the Nanning International Hotel in southern China, all meeting the children we were going to adopt into our families.

The photo you see is our daughter at seven, striking a pose for mommy and her ever-present camera.

I had not won the battle with my reproductive system, but I had learned one thing to pass on to my sisters in the struggle: it is okay to stop fertility treatments. It is not mandatory that we push ourselves to the brink of what technology can do. We can save our time, our energy, and our money to nurture a realized life rather than to tease one from uncooperative biology.

When I decided to have a child at age 34, I didn’t foresee any problem. The long line of relatives who had given birth in middle age included my grandmother, who delivered her 13th child at age 50.

My husband and I approached the process logically: we consulted with doctors and kept charts. We even gave the project a name: Baby Quest.

The first reality check came when the OB-GYN smiled at me from across his desk and said, “In cases like yours, of… shall we say, advanced maturity… you’re going to need some help.”

Soon, I was being probed (general checkup), pinched (endometrial biopsy) and lubed (hysterosalpingogram, a procedure involving warm oil and fallopian tubes). In the illustrations I’d seen of women’s reproductive organs, the fallopian tubes were always short thick passages from ovary to uterus. But when the nurse pointed them out to me on the viewscreen, they were thin threads, like spider silk, meandering through my abdomen. A fragile conduit for life.

Finally, the doctors determined that I had “hostile mucus” and prescribed two courses of antibiotics. Ironically, it was this treatment that assured I would never become pregnant.

I had a delicate digestive system, and the repeated antibiotics send it into a tailspin. I began to have trouble swallowing, much less eating, and only slept a couple of hours a night. We put off Baby Quest time after time, waiting for the symptoms to subside, my biological clock ticking ever louder. The stress was taking its toll on our jobs and on our marriage.

Then one October day at McDonald’s, as I was biting French fries into tiny pieces that I could swallow, we met a beaming father watching over his two-year-old daughter from China as she played.

My husband and I realized we had a choice. We could find another way to build our family, or we could continue on with more waiting, more worry, more procedures, and more money for a pregnancy that was becoming less and less likely.

Yes, during the adoption process we filled out lots of paperwork, spent some money, and worried a bit. But we knew that all of our efforts would lead to that plane ride to China. We were able to stop paying hospitals and start buying baby clothes. Other adoptive parents we met had taken the same approach, stopping before they had exhausted all medical options.

My daughter, now 13, says she would like to adopt a child someday, and she’ll tell you why: “It’s not painful. It’s not messy. And it gives you a chance to travel.”

It was a journey I hadn’t planned to take, but I wouldn’t change a step along the way.

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