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first person

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Illustration by Rachel Wada

Of all the things I imagined having to face as an adult, “unexplained infertility” wasn’t one of them. And yet, here we are.

As a child, some of my fondest memories were the many, many hours I spent at the hockey rink, coached by my father, while my mother and sister attended every game. Around age 12 I remember thinking, “I can’t wait to do this with my child.”

I’m still trying to get there.

My wife and I have been trying, unsuccessfully, to grow our family for three years. At first, we tried to do things naturally – like monitor her cycles by constantly referring to dates and calendars. We joined Weight Watchers to get healthier and lost 65 pounds between us. We both went to fertility-focused acupuncture appointments and had meetings with naturopaths. We planned our private time based on her ovulation. It doesn’t matter how tired, angry or sad you are – when ovulation is happening, you are having sex. Sounds romantic, right? Unfortunately, it’s not.

After that, we wait. I want to say patiently, but I’d be lying.

“What day is it babe? Day 26? Day 27?” As we get close to days 30 and 31, I allow myself to become hopeful. Maybe… just maybe we’re pregnant. “Wait, you’re a day late? Two days? Do we have a name?” Then, it comes. The dreaded period. And with it, disappointment, sadness, confusion and tears.

Back to Day 1 as we start the process all over again.

After 18 months of this, we decided we needed more help. We were 36 and getting older and the older you are, the more difficult it is to make a baby.

At this point, I need to write that my wife is, without question, the most amazing person I’ve ever met. Nothing I have had to deal with over the course of this journey compares to even of fraction of what she has had to endure. Physically, mentally, emotionally, she is my rock, and I believe I’m hers. She is selfless and brave, making it seem effortless, even though I know her heart is crying all the time. I admire her to no end.

Together we have discovered the IVF world is enormous. There are what seems like mountains of information flying at you all at once. It’s as if you’ve taken a boat to the middle of the ocean and been told to jump. Most of what you’re being told is difficult to understand and it was important to find a clinic and a doctor we could connect with. Eventually, we started to grasp the process and chain of events and we got on the list for government funding (even though there is a roughly six month to two-year waitlist, depending on the clinic).

To date, we’ve attempted four IUI procedures (when sperm are placed directly into the uterus) that cost on average from $500-$700 each. We are now partially through our first round of IVF. This much more invasive procedure is close to $20,000 all in. Simply put: my wife is injected with medicine to create as many eggs as possible. Once they are retrieved from her body, they are tested and put together with my sperm in a lab in the hope that they create a healthy embryo. If it does, that embryo is implanted. Once that occurs, all we can do is pray.

For each IUI, my wife had to attend the clinic roughly every other day for almost two weeks. Then, 36 hours before the IUI procedure, I would have to inject her with a needle – a “trigger shot” – to release an egg. To me, this is one of the craziest things about the whole process. Women can either inject themselves or have somebody else (usually their partner) inject them. I have had no medical training and had never injected anybody with anything to that point! I am not sure which one of us was more nervous.

Once we began the IVF stage of our journey, my wife had to endure 23 injections over 10 days. My God was she a trooper. I hated hurting my wife. Tears came from both of us.

But we were blessed to have an embryo that can be implanted. This is where we find ourselves today, as we wait for implantation.

Our life has become all about this fertility journey. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that it’s incredibly important to allow your wife to feel her feelings. Tears are okay. Sadness is okay. You can’t fix this for her today or tomorrow, even though you desperately want to. When my wife is sad, I think, “What can I do to make her feel better?” The truth is there is nothing I can do, and that is a difficult thing to reconcile with. I’ve watched my wife lose some of her glow. Her smile lights up my life, and I have seen less of it since we began this journey.

Helplessness is a feeling I’ve become all too familiar with on so many different levels. The role of a husband in IVF boils down to simply watching. If I could, I would take every needle, go to every appointment and handle every heartache on my own. But I can’t, and I know that’s not what my wife would choose either. Instead of trying to fix everything, I’ve learned to support my wife by being present, physically and mentally. By allowing her to cry and cry with her. I listen to her without judgment. That is what she needs. I am sad, too; very sad. But I try to remain strong because that’s what we both need. And she needs to know that I don’t want kids if I’m not having them with her. If it comes down to one or the other, I choose her. Every. Single. Time.

The emotions as we go through this are wide-ranging. For my wife, the overwhelming emotion is sadness. She’s sad that we’re stuck in a hamster wheel. Every day, every month. She’s sad we’re getting older with no guarantee of any success. She’s sad that our bank accounts have been diminished after we’ve worked so hard to build them up together. Lastly, she’s sad that she always feels sad. For me, it’s anger; and for all of those exact same reasons. I’m angry, and it’s not fair. I hear it all the time. “Life isn’t fair.” Is that helpful? Definitely not.

All you can do is push forward. One day, one step at a time. When you’re forced to struggle for something, it’s that much sweeter when you finally get it. My wife and I are parents already. We’re just waiting for our baby.

Ryan Charny lives in Thornhill, Ont.

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