I never imagined that trying to have a baby in my early thirties would be an issue. Like most women my age, I thought reproduction would be easy: I would hit a home run when I was ready to take a swing at it. Two years later I’ve been diagnosed with premature ovarian aging, a condition only two of my friends have ever heard of.
I started to seriously consider having a baby when I turned thirty. Although I’ve never been a “baby person,” I wanted one of my own, a mini me/him. My husband and I were in a good, stable relationship and we were both on the same page about starting a family.
I set up an appointment with my family doctor to discuss the next steps. Dr. K gave me a physical and explained that it may take some time (blah-blah-blah). I half-listened, but I assumed everything would be fine. My mom got pregnant the second time she tried. My grandmother had five children. Lady, I wasn’t going to have any problems making this child.
If you are positive, nothing bad will happen, right?
We tried and we tried and nothing happened. Each month, I was sorely disappointed. Why wasn’t this happening? Was something wrong with me? I received solicited (and unsolicited) advice from friends. I meticulously tracked my ovulation and spent a small fortune on ovulation and pregnancy tests.
After nine long months, I finally got pregnant. Fist pumps galore. Cake for breakfast. A victory yell. I lied to my doctor and told her that I didn’t remember the first day of my last period so that I could get an early ultrasound, at around eight weeks instead of the usual twelve.
At the ultrasound, we discovered our embryo had no heartbeat. Long story short: I arranged for a D&C to take out the embryo that wasn’t going to develop further. The doctor who performed the procedure left too much tissue inside my uterus, which tricked my body to believe it was pregnant for five long months.
Once the tissue was out of my body – for real – I gave myself six months to get my life together and then we would try again.
We tried for another six months and I booked an appointment with Dr. K. She called me in for a follow-up appointment to discuss my recent bloodwork. I was nervous. I knew she asked me to come back to her office because something was wrong with me. I thought, maybe it was a thyroid issue –– I definitely gained a few pounds –– or was there still leftover tissue from my previous nightmare of a pregnancy?
I was wrong on all counts.
I quietly sat in her examination room waiting for the upset. “Ariel, I’ve reviewed your bloodwork and everything looks great except your AMH levels are surprisingly low.” She looked down at her notes. “Low AMH indicates that you have a low egg reserve.” She looked back up at me. “Quite low, actually,” she said.
“What does this mean?” I asked.
“It means that out of 100 women, you are at the 10th percentile of fertility.” She pulled up a graph on her computer screen and showed me the category to which I now belonged. I sat there slack-faced, not comprehending what she was saying. She continued. “I have one patient in her forties who gave up all hope on ever having a baby. She had two eggs left and she got pregnant, so it can still happen. Good luck.” Her eyes were sympathetic.
That is when I knew it was really bad.
What I wanted to say to her is, “Why are you telling me a miracle story about a forty-year-old woman? I’m thirty-three. I don’t give a honk about a forty-year-old woman trying to have a baby; she should have started her family planning earlier like I did.”
But I didn’t say anything. I nodded and left her office, emotions all over the place. I cried on the subway ride home.
Fertility. Infertility. Both words irritate me as much as the fact that I am now an infertility cliché: an educated woman in her early thirty who tried to have a baby and experienced difficulties along the way. And cliché I was. The day after Dr. K’s appointment, I cried into a bowl of ice cream and watched Netflix.
The Center for Human Reproduction defines POA as “having a low ovarian reserve or poor ovarian reserve relative to what is expected at any given age. POA is one of the major, often overlooked, causes of female infertility.” The blood test measures anti-mullerian hormone (AMH) “…a hormone secreted by the cells of the developing antral and pre-antral follicles (or egg sacks) in the ovaries.”
“Thank you, Center for Human Reproduction,” I whispered to the computer screen after finding one of the only sites with information dedicated to POA.
When you have a lower egg reserve, the egg quality is usually reduced as well. Dr. K referred me to a fertility clinic and I was seen almost immediately.
For the last six months, I dutifully went to the fertility clinic for rounds of artificial insemination and one round of IVF. Nothing has worked. I feel forced to give up my dream of having a biological child because I can’t take the stress of trying any longer. If I were at the 10th percentile of fertility six months ago, I can only imagine it’s a heck of a lot worse now.
Even with my diagnosis, I am unsure what to call it. Is POA a disorder? A syndrome? A condition? A case of bad luck? I don’t know because there isn’t a lot of information out there. I know POA is a genetic problem and that it can be caused by heavy smoking or radiation/chemotherapy. I’ve never smoked a day in my life and I’ve never had radiation/chemotherapy either. I guess it is lucky door number 1 then.
This whole experience has been humiliating to me. I no longer believe life is fair. I roll my eyes a heck of a lot more. I’ve traded in my rose-coloured glasses for a pair of shit shades and it sucks for everyone around me, including my formerly optimistic self. I’m a realist now, no doubt about it. “We will see,” I say to anyone that dare asks me for an update. If I hear one more person tell me that I am young, I will scream. My typical response is, “I know I’m thirty-four but you have to pretend that my eggs are forty-five. It’s not good.” To my relief, this usually ends the conversation.
And I guess we will see. Maybe a miracle will happen and we will end up with a baby. When I was unsure about kids, my mom said, “Having a child opens you up to a love you didn’t know existed in this world.” Well, fuck. I wanted that kind of love and I still do.
Regardless of my diagnosis, I believe that my husband and I will get through this together. I believe that I will be okay no matter what happens, eggs or no eggs. I’m thankful to live in a time where egg donation is possible and adoption is also an option. If I want to become a mother, I still can, it just may not be the traditional route. It’s a good thing I like off-roading anyway!
An important part of my journey is sharing my experience with other women in hopes that they can avoid the heartache I’ve known. I’m urging women to talk to their doctor, ask all the questions, and request information about the available tests. Take the time to get all the facts about fertility.
My story doesn’t have a happy ending but it doesn’t have a sad one either. If sharing my story helps even just one other woman, I won’t feel so bad. This wasn’t all for nothing.