Written by Jenna-Medlin Roark and Josh Roark
Standing in the road, I close my eyes and breathe in deeply. Breathing in and out, I clear my thoughts and practice the smile on my face. I’ve just been in the car fighting to the death with my husband, although I can’t remember what about, because this awful week has blended together. We are both tense and to say we are sad would not even begin to describe the immense pain we both feel. It’s best to put on a show of strength so as to not worry those around us.
I’ve been told that I get over things easily and quickly or perhaps I just shove the pain I am feeling to the great depths of my soul. Josh does the same but in each other’s presence, we are vulnerable and afraid. We are tender and fragile, afraid to even leave the house and more importantly afraid to be alone. If we are alone, the pain eats away at our minds and before we know it, the other has to come back to save us from the intrusions that haunt us. The sorrow feels as if it will be for evermore.
Our IVF journey started on a sunny Friday morning, August 6th 2021. The Menapur stung like hell as Josh pushed the needle further into my skin. The stinging lasted what seemed like the entire day but was only realistically ten minutes. I was happy when my dad called to check on me as he distracted me from the pain that made my jaw clench so tightly together. I was so excited to have the opportunity to start this journey, free of charge and for one time only. When I was made aware that this was the route we had to take, I couldn’t help but be grateful that my insurance paid for me to have access to IVF, even if it was for only one round.
I have watched so many women over social media take out loans to get this far or use every last dime they had in their savings for the high stakes game of IVF. I took my vitamins religiously, refrained from alcohol, my husband tried to make sure I ate healthy meals, free of gluten, and I had my fertility stones by my side. Jade, I am told, is the best stone for fertility and my parents made sure I had all the stones we would need. With every stab of the needle for the medication that was making me undoubtedly bloated, I got more excited. We were getting closer and closer to our finish line.
Our egg retrieval came and I made sure to wear that Jade in my hair. I needed all of the help I could get today. Living with Endometriosis and PCOS, Josh and I knew this would be hard but we were confident and ready. Our doctor got nine eggs, nine opportunities. I was so eager to learn if they had fertilized. When we learned that seven had fertilized, I told Josh that I couldn’t fathom not having seven kids. I knew that was unrealistic as they still needed to be biopsied but to me, every last embryo would need to be used.
Over the five days after my egg retrieval, Josh and I spent time talking about our future child, all of the names we liked, how we would name a daughter after our sisters, and how excited we were that we had seven embabies. I worked endlessly and naively, searching for the perfect present to give to Josh after our beta test came back positive. I found the perfect Up onesie with the words “Adventure Awaits”. When I was taking stimulants, we decided to watch the movie, Up, and it made me cry seeing Ellie’s infertility struggle. I do not normally cry, so Josh made sure to document the rare moment. As Josh left the house for work on Wednesday, August 25th, he hugged me and kissed my cheek. “Have a good day at work, I can’t wait to hear how our embabies are doing” he said as he closed the door behind himself.
I had been waiting all day to hear the news of how our embryos had grown and if they would be sent out to be biopsied. I had grown so attached to our embryos. I thought about what they would all grow up to be like, what they would look like, and if they were cold in the IVF lab, which Josh found entertaining. I would take them all if I could. They were my babies. They still are.
I was glued to my phone for the entire day. “Tuesday by 6 PM you will hear from me to let you know how the embryos are doing and that I sent them to be biopsied” the embryologist said in a message the Thursday after my egg retrieval. The night drug on and by 5:15, I still had not heard from the embryologist. “He said he would call by six, we just have to be patient. I am sure they did not forget to call us” Josh said as I sat at the table doing my puzzle. Bachelor in Paradise played on my iPad and Josh made himself eggs in the kitchen, which he thought was fitting for the occasion. “They are calling, they are calling!” I paused my show and answered the call on speaker. I was a little bit confused as it was my doctor on the line and not the embryologist.
She seemed a bit stressed out and upset but to me it was nothing out of the ordinary. “Jenna, all of your embryos have degenerated and are no longer viable. They are still alive at this time but are deteriorating quickly. We can try IVF again, but it is highly likely that you will end up in the same spot we are in now. Another option may be to look into an egg donor.” I can’t breathe, nor can I think.
I can’t do this. Tears are streaming down my face and I can hear my heart in my head. I think I have lost control of my body. If Josh’s arms were not tightly wrapped around me, I would be flailing around like a fish out of water. This has to be a dream, a horrible, horrible, dream. Maybe it was a joke or better yet a mistake. I think my soul has left the earth momentarily leaving behind a shell of hopelessness, fear, and devastation.
Forgetting I am still on the phone, I am silent and holding my breath as to not let her or Josh, who is sitting behind me, know that I am like a dam trying to hold the water back. She asks if I have any questions and I say no. We hang up and I fall onto the table, still very silent. I can feel Josh put his hand on my back and that is when the tears come running out. I don’t think I have moaned out of pure pain and sadness in all of my life. My body in and of itself was in pain, however I had no thoughts except “I cannot do this”. “This is not how it was supposed to end for us”, I say to Josh as I collapse into his arms. I can feel him crying too, he never cries.
I am a broken shell of a woman. This is what I am meant for, I think to myself. Not in any type of political or social way but in the depths of my soul. This is everything I have and ever will want and I cannot do it. What is wrong with me?
I needed to leave our apartment. Stumbling into our room, I searched for a shirt and my Crocs. As I walked out of the front door, the dry heat took my breath away. I was awoken from this horrible dream and brought back to reality, but this was my reality. While I wanted to have Josh near to comfort me, I couldn’t stand the thought that I was the biggest disappointment to him. By the time I got to my parents house to tell them the news, I had calmed down. Going to my parents house let me escape my reality. It helped in the moment but as soon as I came home, I knew I would cry myself to sleep. I did end up crying myself to sleep to the tune of myself thinking, why me? If there is a God, why would he choose to bestow this punishment on me? Did I do something wrong to deserve such pain? This is your fault, Jenna.
Jenna and I have been trying to conceive for two years now to no avail. We were confused and bitter at our struggle with fertility until we finally found a doctor who was willing to help and listen. We discovered Jenna had PCOS and Endometriosis and finally found the reason why we were struggling. After finally getting setup with a fertility clinic, we were given the chance to undergo IVF. We knew it would be difficult and that there would be many struggles along the way but we never imagined that it would end the way it did. I had the responsibility of bring the IVF medicine administrator, meaning I had to stick my wife with needles at least twice a day. It was funny at first seeing her freak out over the shots but I also felt guilty knowing that she was going through so much pain to try to bear a child for us when my contribution was so simple.
With each shot and each day, we drew closer to the day of our egg retrieval. This was the first step in creating our embryos. Jenna went through immense amounts of discomfort each day and I was constantly amazed that she was willing to experience all of this so that we have a chance at conception. We went to all of the appointments with more and more hope as the medicine dosage increased and the eggs matured. The doctor was estimating between 30 and 40 follicles which was fantastic news to us as we prepared for the retrieval.
The retrieval day finally came and Jenna went inside for the procedure as I waited eagerly outside to hear the results. When Jenna came out she was dazed from the twilight sleep but something seemed very wrong. She burst into tears when we left and told me that they only got 9 eggs and the rest were actually cysts. It was the first piece of devastating news we would receive over the next week.
After we learned that only 7 eggs fertilized we were still hopeful and eager to hear the results of the embryo maturation. We were connected to the embryos and they were our 7 possible children we had created and would bring into the world. I had been so hopeful throughout our journey and then I was hit with a tsunami of disappointment and sorrow. After all of the angst leading up to this moment, we learned that none of the embryos were viable and they were all degenerative. It was an out of body experience after all of the work we put into IVF to have this be the end. How could it be real? It was nothing short of heartbreaking.
Not a single bit of my disappointment was towards Jenna but I knew she would doubt herself after we had such an unexpected and heartbreaking ending to our IVF cycle. To anyone with a partner struggling with infertility, love them more everyday and reaffirm your commitment to them constantly. Their struggle is not only one with conception, but also one of insecurity when they had no choice in their fertility.
Struggles with infertility are not something that are commonly spoken about in our society. Get married, have children, and live happily ever after. That’s the stuff fairytales are made of isn’t it? Over the course of these years of infertility, we have been asked when we would have children and why we did not have any yet. We remained strong and gave a lot of generic replies. We found comfort in our nieces and nephews but it only intensified the inquiries from those who knew us.
The desired ‘mind your own business, I have Endometriosis, PCOS, and have to do IVF’, is not exactly the most civilized reply to someone, but is what came to mind every time we were asked. In fact, most of the time, an ‘I’m sorry’ was the response we would get if we were finally fed enough to explain ourselves. Sympathy is not what we are looking for, rather, what we want is help creating a space of understanding and awareness of the struggle both women and men face with infertility everyday. The pain of infertility is real and vulnerable. Every baby shower and pregnancy announcement stings, the sight of a cute baby outfit can be triggering, the emotion of not having your rainbow can be painful, but as Taylor Swift would say, “this pain wouldn’t be for evermore.”