My life was pretty carefree prior to my unexplained infertility. I had an idyllic childhood with loving parents who provided me with a solid foundation. It was no surprise to them that I became a teacher. I loved kids and wanted to be a mother ever since I was a little girl. I thought that being a teacher would coincide perfectly with raising a family, and I wanted at least three or four children. In a strange twist of fate, when it came to kids, I could teach and love everyone else’s children, yet struggled to have one of my own.
I met my husband, Bob, a US Navy officer, when I was teaching outside of Washington D. C. Bob was soon to deploy to the Persian Gulf. The foundation of our relationship was built on letters and audiocassette tapes half a world apart. When Bob was in the Gulf, he received orders to the Pentagon. After our seven-month separation, Bob returned to the USA and moved within a ten-minute drive of my apartment. Without the ocean separating us, we could finally get to know one another. We fell in love and were married within 9 months.
I was ready to start a family right away, since we married a little older than most. I was 28 and Bob was 34. When nothing happened after six months of trying, I went to see my OB-GYN. We completed all the fertility testing and everything looked picture perfect.
After a year of trying to conceive, my doctor told me that I had “unexplained infertility” but treatment was out of his area of expertise. He referred me to board certified Reproductive Endocrinologist (RE) so we could pursue Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART). My world stood still.
Unexplained infertility won’t stop a woman of action
I soon made an appointment with my new RE and decided to move forward with IUI’s. I don’t recall how many IUI’s we did (maybe 8 – 10?) but none were successful. Around this time in our journey, my husband received orders to the Philippines. Within a couple of short weeks, I was plucked away from my job, my family and friends, my country… and most importantly, my RE.
When we were in the Philippines, ART was really not available. The nickname of the US Navy hospital was “Jungle General!” What a joke! I futilely took Clomid and hoped to continue IUI’s, but Jungle General lost my blood work every month I tried.
Those two and a half years in the Philippines were the lowest part of my fertility journey. It was incredibly difficult to be so far away from cutting edge treatment and my biological clock was ticking furiously. It had now been almost 5 years of TTC.
When Bob and I returned to the USA, I started IVF as soon as possible. I also joined RESOLVE, an infertility support group. It was through RESOLVE that I met my soul sisters, the co-authors of Detours: Unexpected Journeys of Hope Conceived from Infertility.
In the fall of 1991 I had my first IVF. Six embryos were transferred and a couple of them had progressed to the blastocyst stage. The procedure failed. In spring of 1992, I had my second IVF. This time they transferred eight high-quality embryos. They all died. There was a long break after the second IVF because Bob was at a Navy school on the east coast. Separations are challenging enough, but when infertility is added, it’s unparalleled. In the winter of 1993 we did our third IVF. We transferred 6 more embryos, but they all died. I was devastated.
In the spring of 1993, a world-renowned infertility specialist set up a satellite office in San Diego. We decided to switch RE’s and do a cycle with this specialist. He was a little more aggressive and creative with treatments. For our fourth IVF the new doctor did a combination ZIFT/IVF. He transferred two embryos into my uterus and three embryos into my fallopian tubes via laparoscopy. He also gave me a three-month prescription for progesterone injections and a medication called Medrol, which was typically used for organ transplant patients to help prevent rejection. This was the cycle that worked for us. After 7 years we were finally pregnant! Nine months later I delivered a healthy, robust 9.5-pound baby boy who is the pride and joy of my life.
When my son was just two years old, I tried another combination IVF/ZIFT to see if we could have a second child. But the procedure failed. At this point in time, I was done. My body couldn’t take anymore and neither could our pocketbooks. So, we decided to stop any further treatments. I mourned the fact that my son would never have any siblings, but I was also grateful to have him. Altogether we struggled for ten years to resolve our fertility.
I still remember my unexplained infertility pain
My son is 23 years old at the time I am writing this. Not a day goes by that I don’t pinch myself to see if I’m dreaming. I don’t think I’ll ever understand why it was so difficult for us to have a baby and I will never take motherhood for granted. But I have learned a lot along the journey.
Life doesn’t always follow in a straight trajectory. There are roadblocks and setbacks. Everyone suffers from adversity. But there is something that rattled me to the core of my being about infertility.
I have always loved to write. As a matter of fact, keeping a journal of my fertility journey was very therapeutic for me. I knew that one day I wanted to share my story in writing for my son. I felt it was important for him to know how desperately wanted and loved he was… long before I ever got to meet him. I wanted him to read the story of his creation and realize how incredibly special his story is. I wanted him to know how hard we fought and persevered… against all odds… to make our dream come true. I wanted him to understand that although the road was long and arduous, I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat to have him. I wanted to impart my perspective that dreams are an essential and fundamental aspect of being human and we never gave up on our dream.
However, I also realize that I was one of the lucky ones. Not everyone’s dreams become a reality. The pain of infertility is indelible in my soul. The primary reason I wanted to publish Detours was for others struggling with infertility to realize that somehow, someway there will be a resolution to your infertility. It is my wish that our stories and different outcomes will be a source of hope and inspiration. I want you to know that you are not alone.
My RESOLVE friends asked me to lead the project to publish Detours. It took five years for me to collect, edit, revise and compile the eleven stories that are included in the book. My “paper baby” was delivered on March 11, 2017 and I am so pleased to say that it has been #1 on Amazon in its category. Our stories cover the gambit of ART including: IVF, PCOS, ICSI, surrogacy, multiple miscarriages, donor egg, a man’s perspective, adoption, childfree living, unexplained infertility and much more.
Unexplained infertility gave me a purpose in life
But my work for the infertility community doesn’t stop there. I continue to publish my writing on my blog and I created a line of infertility support greeting cards and gifts aptly named “In-Fertility & Friendship Gifts.” I lead a fertility support group, volunteer for a helpline and I lobby Congress and my local officials for affordable access to care for all those who want to build their families. I am passionate about supporting the infertility community because nothing else in my 5+ decades of life has affected me as profoundly.
Since my battle with unexplained infertility, I have grown and become a better version of myself. I am more compassionate, resilient and determined. I am more creative and outspoken. I am more resourceful, accepting and courageous. Unexplained infertility has turned me into a warrior. And it can do the same thing for Y.O.U.
To learn more about Sue Johnston and her advocacy work, please visit: www.theinfertilityadvocate.com