The Empty Room. The Real Story of Life

We found this title in the “All Things Surrogacy” Facebook group. From the first sentences, it struck us to the depths of our heart. Because of its openness, the cry of the soul, and the real advices the author (Ms. Tracy Brenton) gives to the community in the end! We thought for a long time, whether this story will be interested to our community suffering from infertility problems, or not. Sooner than later, we decided to present the latter to your personal attention… Meet “The Empty Room”, the real story of life…

Thought I would share a little about my story. I am not really an IP (yet) though surrogacy has been certainly part of the story. I wrote this about 5 years ago and just updated it with more recent experiences. We are kind of at an “impasse” with regard to our next steps. That ugly crossroads we all fear. 10 yrs. of trying, and no baby. We are not sure what is next but still know our baby is out there.

I, like many young women, saw my future with many things: a husband, a home, a simple life, and children. I never expected to be rich or to live some sort of extravagant life. Though my aspirations were many, at the end of the day, the only real desires of my heart were to be around people who loved and cared for me, enjoying the good life with my husband and children. In 2003, I married a man that offered a sort of love and simplicity that my life was lacking for some time. It was refreshing. Not complex, just a simple love that gave me more security than I had felt in a lifetime of difficulty. I have come to know that my marriage, though not perfect nor free of difficulty, is one of those perfect unions that is cultivating and refining two very different people into the likeness of God. This refining has been painful at times but nonetheless necessary to bring us closer together.

Having a family was one of those things that I just thought would happen naturally. Growing up, the message is, “Do not get pregnant, and again do not get pregnant!” There is this sense of fear instilled in us so we do everything we can to make sure that does not happen. Perhaps, it worked a little too well. A year after I was married, I found myself in terrible pain, unable to walk. I had been having this pain in my leg for about a month and one day, I said to myself, “perhaps I have a blood clot”, having no idea whatsoever of how serious that was. I make it through the day somehow with the leg that felt like it weighed a hundred pounds and carted myself and my big leg to the ER. Upon arrival, I was told that I was not going anywhere for a week. My heart stopped. Literally. A week? How was I to put my life on hold for a week? However, I had no choice. I had a life threatening blood clot and I had to be admitted to the hospital.

Therefore, I was admitted and was loaded up on blood thinners. I was stuck in a small hospital room, with three channels on the TV and a couple of magazines. Bored does not even begin to describe it. I was determined to go home. So, I did but within a few days, I started having chest pain. I remembered that the nurses were asking me if I had any chest pain while in the hospital and I never did. Something inside myself said: go ask Google about a pulmonary embolism. After all, Google knows everything! “Dr. Google” brought me to Web. MD, which literally, saved my life. I was experiencing a pulmonary embolism. Now, I was scared and back to the hospital I went. It earned me another stay in the fabulous hospital, eating the same food and watching those same three channels on TV. How fun that was.

Once I was released, I treated on Coumadin for about a year and later was referred to a hematologist, who told me clearly that I would probably have problems getting pregnant. I sat there in his office, bewildered. He was telling me something but also telling me absolutely nothing at the same time. Very frustrating. I left the office with a sense of emotional detachment. Nope, I said to myself. I will not be one of those women who have those sorts of problems. It will not be me. I went off Coumadin because of the risk of birth defects. I was told that I could never take birth control ever again because of the fact that my blood likes to clot a bit more than it should. Therefore, I figured, a baby would be here before I knew it. It did not…

About a year after I finished my Coumadin, I decided to go get fertility testing. Yet again, I believed I would not be that woman who could not conceive on her own. We went, were checked out in perhaps the only legal human meat market: The Fertility Clinic. They tell us: You are fine! You should be pregnant in no time. See, I thought to myself, I am not going to be one of those women. We went home and decided that even though we wanted to proceed with treatments, it would probably be better to wait until I was closer to finishing my master’s degree and we decided to wait. Secretly, I figured in the process, I would get pregnant on my own. I was sure of it.

Then, on New Year’s Eve of 2008, I was feeling a little off. I honestly was not even thinking about getting pregnant. It had been so many years of trying; I just got exhausted thinking about it. I came home with a pregnancy test and boom: positive. I was shocked. Finally! It is finally happening. Chris takes me out to dinner and is blabbing about how his wife is pregnant and how I would just be taking water with my filet mignon. He was so happy and so was I. Sadly, perhaps the first time either of us had been happy in months.

Before I knew it, I was sick as a dog. It hit me like a ton a bricks (and believe me, those bricks were heavy!) I could not work at all. I was consumed completely and totally with morning sickness. Each day seemed to get worse but I did not mind it too much because I knew I was pregnant. My OBGYN confirmed the pregnancy with the blood test and sent me for a sonogram right away, knowing that I would be high risk in this pregnancy. I was pumped and ready to see that heartbeat.

The night before, something in me knew something was wrong. Call it maternal instinct. I said to my husband, “I do not think there is a heartbeat.” I hoped I was wrong but somehow I knew. We went anyway, in hopes that it was my bundle of nerves talking. They tried for about 45 minutes to get a heartbeat. Nothing…

By this time, I made the mistake of telling people. I learned the hard way of why you do not tell people until you are out of the first trimester. Everyone knew. It was such a miracle, we thought and it was so exciting. It was one of those burning secrets you just could not help but say. Of course, I thought this would have all worked out and of course, I would not be one of those women who had just had a miscarriage. However, I was and that was a reality that I had to face.

Of course, with every face I saw from that day on was the same question: How are you feeling? Have you had the sonogram yet? How many weeks are you? There really is not any way around those questions. I would ask the same. Therefore, I had to tell them. Many well intentioned people tried to do what they knew to do, which wasn’t much. Before I had room to breathe, I was immediately faced with dealing with everyone else’s pain. Not mine. I was faced with listening to the many unintended but hurtful things that people would say. I tried my best to be polite but eventually, I stopped talking about it all together because I just could not listen to one more plot of encouragement because there was not any.

Back to square one. Chris and I decided to start trying again. We knew we could get pregnant and so we felt charged that it would happen again. It did not. On to plan “B”: back to Fertility Land…

I reluctantly went to the fertility clinic to get started with what they call conservative Intrauterine Insemination. Basic stuff. Lots of appointments, sonograms and blood tests; at the perfect moment, I was inseminated in the office, and boom, I should get pregnant. The doctors talked like it would be a piece of cake. I would probably get pregnant on the first try. Three tries later, still no baby.

In this process, I got so frustrated with the utter lack of effort made by fertility doctors in trying to understand the root of your infertility. After having done some research, I was convinced that I had Polycystic Ovary Disease (PCOS), which is a sort of hormonal war that is so common in women in my age group where the hormones are all out of whack and you do not ovulate. However, no one really took it seriously and even today; I never really got any definitive answers. Nevertheless, I knew that was what I was dealing with. However, sadly, there is no real cure. They tell women with PCOS to improve their lifestyle, to lose weight, exercise, etc. but at the same time, women with PCOS live in bodies that are vehemently resistant to weight loss because of the hormonal imbalances. It is not impossible but very difficult. Therefore, not only am I stuck in a body that does not work and I equally stuck in a body that is holding onto these extra pounds on for dear life. Oh, how I wish they would let a few of them go!

After the three IUI’s failed, we had enough. We were not sure where to turn exactly. There is a multitude of options in how to become parents: IVF, adoption, donor egg, surrogacy, foster care, etc. We became paralyzed with options and not being sure of what to do, we did nothing, for a while. I focused on finishing school and in the spring of 2010, I had a bright, shiny master’s degree. Our life, by this point, was in shambles. We had serious financial problems, had been hit hard by the housing collapse and if I am honest, my marriage had collapsed. Therefore, we waited…

One afternoon about a year after I got my masters, I thought, we should become foster parents in hopes we could adopt. I asked my husband what he thought and he said he had been thinking the same thing. Therefore, we began the process of home studies, excruciating background checks, fingerprinting, baby proofing, etc. and about a year later, we were approved. In hindsight, our minds and hearts were not in the right place and from the expectations of the state; we were perhaps the worst foster parents ever. However, we were going out to find our baby. They told us, “you’re not getting an infant so don’t even be thinking that”. We were told we might get a toddler if we were lucky but in all likelihood, we would have an older child. Then one day, I got “the call” for a 2-week-old baby boy who had been born exposed to drugs and he needed to be placed right away. If I could have been there, I would have been there in 1 minute. We went to go see him and he was so tiny, so perfect. We took him home and lovingly cared for him. Our room suddenly was not empty anymore. He had many special needs. He was still detoxing from the drugs. However, about three months in, he came out of it and he was just as normal and happy as any other baby could be. Meanwhile, both of his parents had vanished and I would be lying if we were not happy about that. We continued caring for him, introduced him to our families, friends, etc. and everyone was IN LOVE. Six months in, his mother entered rehab and the father also resurfaced. There was a fierce fight over who was going to get him and when. We knew we were going to lose. We knew how the system operated and how they would do anything possible to reunify them with at least his mother. In our heads, we supported that at the right time but in our hearts, he was ours. We fought as hard as we could, but there became a moment where we knew we were losing him. We made a commitment to make every day special. Moreover, we did. The day we had to hand him over to the state social worker I will never forget. The pain was unimaginable. The pain of what the state did to us in this process was also fierce. However, we also took with us a myriad of wonderful memories and that we will never forget.

Therefore, we moved on. The memory of our foster baby lived on in our hearts, the hearts of our families and even in the hearts of complete strangers who never even knew him or only met him once. Shortly thereafter, we began the process of adoption however we could not quite nail ourselves down to that option because of our continued desire to be parents of our own child that would not be taken from us. I did not want to give up on my body and given my age, there was not time to lose. Therefore, we began fertility treatments again. We had one round of IVF previously the month our foster son went home to his mother that failed and we had one remaining embryo. We began with a fresh cycle in May 2014, which failed. Then a frozen embryo transfer in July 2014 and it worked! We were ecstatic. All the numbers looked great. Until they did not and I had a miscarriage.

Moreover, here we are, yet again. Ten years later, no baby. Do we adopt? Do we keep trying with IVF? We are not sure. The possibilities are endless but the certainties are fleeting, as are the resources to bring us the baby we have been dreaming about for the past ten years.

This is the life of living with infertility. It is one of those things that is not talked about. The people that are talking about it are those irritating advice givers telling me I just need to relax and let nature take its course; those people who have absolutely no idea what this is all about are the ones that need to take a vow of silence.

Living with infertility sucks. There is just no other way of saying it. It sucks for so many reasons, but I want to name a few of them:

  1. Being ostracized. Admit it or not, there are certain segments of the culture that are ostracized: Those who are single and never marry, the elderly/disabled, and those who are married but do not have children. Our culture is so geared towards accomplishing certain tasks: Education, Home, Marriage and Family. Anyone who does not hit those tasks, are outed by the culture,
  2. Being shamed. Once it is out there that having a baby is likely out of reach, many unintentionally invoke a sense of shame upon you. People say things like “Oh, perhaps this is God’s way of closing window”, or when the many subjects about the raising of children come up and you may have an opinion “Oh, you don’t have children so you couldn’t possibly understand.” Really? I did not know that. Thanks for the reminder,
  3. Witnessing the other life out there. Do not get me wrong, I am definitely not one of those people who are jealous of others who have children. In fact, it is quite the opposite. I makes me so happy to see others out there having and enjoying their children. It is beautiful. However, day in and day out, you see families with children everywhere. All across the world, there are teenagers and women getting pregnant and abandoning, aborting or adopting out their children. Though I clearly understand the reality of unplanned pregnancies, I sit here trapped in a body that will not produce the very life that is being thrown away by so many and it hurts. There is life out there everywhere, it is all a constant reminder of what you just do not have, and many never have,
  4. Having to redefine your truth. I will admit to anyone, I always hated this concept: your truth. This term always has irritated me because it just seems to be a cop out against the ultimate truth that so many are uncomfortable with facing. However, for the sake of this discussion, a truth here is unique to me and the many other couples out there dealing with this very issue. My truth has to be redefined. This new truth may or may not be a truth that has a baby. I have to face that, own it and accept it. I have to decide what I am going to do with that basic reality. The fact that I have to do this, accept being in a body that just does not work the way it is supposed to, enrages me.

Therefore, life has moved us on. We live with every day this reality. Which brings me to the meaning of the title: “The Empty Room”. I am sure that the many families out there may find this concept foreign: having an empty room. Being so packed with stuff: toys, clothes, furniture… You are sure that one day, the house will implode with all that stuff! However, I do. I have an empty room. It has had different functions over the years: an office, a storage room and now it is a make shift dog room. I walk by it hundreds of times in a day. I always saw this room as a future nursery. I knew what furniture I would buy, where it would go and what color to paint the walls. I saw rocking of babies to sleep, nursing and spending many countless hours in their playing and savoring each moment. Nevertheless, now, I may need to see something else. This empty room has become symbolic of what it is like to live with infertility. It is a sense of emptiness that no one fully understands, nor perhaps could ever understand. Sadly, this empty room needs to be filled up with other things. At least for now, in this moment in time, when things are at an impasse.

What many may not realize is that infertility affects millions of women and men all across the world. Chances are you may know someone who is infertile and women who have had at least one miscarriage. A medical condition is pervasive, devastating and life changing. They say that having a baby changes everything. Conversely, not having one changes everything too.

In closing, here are the things not to say to someone dealing with infertility:

  1. Just relax. Go take a vacation. Stop thinking about it so much. It will happen,
  2. Anything reflecting Romans 8:28 (For all things work together for the good, for those who love God and are called according to His purposes). Please, do not go there,
  3. Do not tell me the story of the friend of a friend who tried, failed and adopted, then later got pregnant. Also, not helpful,
  4. Do not pretend to understand something that you do not,
  5. Do not try to encourage too much. Words of encouragement actually end up being more of a reminder of another person who simply does not get it,
  6. Do not try to fix something you cannot,
  7. Do not refer me to your miracle doctor that is going to solve all my problems,
  8. Do not suggest your magic potions and tricks of getting my body back in sync. They do not work. Believe me as I have tried them all,
  9. Do not continue to ask questions about if you are trying, or what else we are doing to try to get pregnant. Do not ask. When I am ready to tell you, I will,
  10. In addition, PLEASE, to the family members who want to help: Do not make the infertility about YOU? Do not make it about the loss, you have experienced, or what you are missing. Please, do not do that. That hurts most of all.

However, most of all, the best thing you can do is to be silent but present. When dealing with infertility, you can do so much more healing to the person struggling by being silent and present than you could ever do in your effort to fix anything. Be there to love and support. Accept the fact that you do not understand and cannot fix anything. Offer an ear to listen but do not impose it before the right time. Think about what you are going to say before you say it. Infertility is so difficult to live with and is a process much more painful than one might imagine.

One year and 25 days after this title was posted, and God knows how many years after I originally wrote this, our son Greyson James was born. Our parenting journey was fulfilled by adoption. Every step was necessary. Though I cannot say that we had this wonderful happy-ending, my life as a new mom is in full swing. He is a wonderful, handsome, stubborn and lively two year old. He is the light of my life!

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