(This is the sixth installment in our detailed journey. Start here, or go to part 2, part 3, part 4, or part 5 .)
While in Germany, I took it upon myself to use the time to try to make progress on my dissertation. I wrote and submitted the first draft of the first chapter to my advisor, but when her feedback came back, I was faced with the realization that there was nothing left for me in this program. There was no more motivation, no more inspiration, no more desire left in me to continue. I was now looking at the prospect of making my peace with having spent the last five years of my life, and the 20,000 or so additional dollars I spent after getting my Master’s degree, on coursework and independent research tuition that would never result in another degree.
I had changed my topic slightly from the original pregnancy magazines to parenting magazines when we had been pursuing adoption for a while because it became painful for me to be reminded of other women’s pregnancies. But that proved to be too little too late. I agonized over the decision to withdraw from the program for several days. Many tears were cried, but in the end, it just didn’t make sense for me to continue.
What makes this decision bittersweet is the alternative goal with which I replaced my near-life-long hope of a PhD: motherhood. Two years have come and gone since I thought I “chose” motherhood over a PhD and a career, and I now have neither desire of my heart.
In the larger scheme of things, this heartache proved to be a crucial turning point on our journey. I finally agreed to bite the bullet and pursue adoption via an agency. It didn’t hurt that my mom, bless her heart, offered to fund the adoption with what I later found out was her retirement savings. Given that adoptions from El Salvador, Alex’s native country, were closed to Americans, we chose to go with international adoption from my native Poland.
After some comparison shopping, we began the process with Lutheran Services out of New York in November of 2010, the month after we came back from Germany. Finally, after three years, this was going to be a guarantee. We invested $7,000 into this adoption attempt before withdrawing. Crazy, I know. Why would anyone withdraw from a near-guarantee?
My lack of patience played a big role. We needed to get our homestudy updated before proceeding, and for some reason it was stalling. What should’ve taken a couple of months was taking nearly half a year. With anxious anticipation, spending lots of time online, I happened to peak on a fertility forum I had once been active on. I don’t know what changed in my approach that led me to consider if there were things we might do to bypass our diagnosis. In the process, I came across a way to do IVF without the extensive hormonal preparation. One of the only two clinics in the nation that specialized in natural cycle IVF just happened to be within commuting distance to us.
We proceeded to schedule a TESE, testicular sperm extraction, with a consultation at the IVF clinic the following week. I had become convinced that, since there was no identifiable reason for the azoospermia, it may be a matter of very low production that can be accessed via biopsy. We drew closer to each other in faith in preparation for this procedure. I spent the two hours in the waiting room reading my Bible and praying for good news. I hadn’t yet learned to surrender my will to God.
When the doctor pulled me into a private room post-op to discuss the findings, I didn’t expect what she would tell me. There were no sperm to be found. Sertoli-Cell Only Syndrome. Sperm were just not being produced. In the grand scheme of things, if there’s anything that Alex’s body wasn’t going to be producing, we should be grateful that it’s not something necessary for his life. On the other hand, it’s the one thing necessary for the creation of life for our mutual child.
I remember trying to make sense of what the doctor was telling me. Surely, ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection) is the cure-all for all things sperm-related, so at least she found some guys, however weak, that we could use in ICSI, right? But she just shook her head and reiterated that there is nothing there.
After a moment to compose myself, I called the IVF clinic to cancel our consultation. Then, it was time to see Alex and break the news to him. The doctor had told him, but since he was coming out from under anesthesia, he didn’t hear or understand her. When he saw me, he asked “Well?” I tried to delay having to tell him. I remember this tiny moment frozen in time, the moment before we both knew that a mutual biological child was definitely not going to happen. When I told him, he did the same thing I did, asking in disbelief: “Nothing?”
The drive home was like a blur. I drove while Alex napped on some ice. He spent the next few days on a bag of frozen peas, sore and disappointed. But thank God, he was back on his feet and at work soon, and his stitches dissolved on their own.
Before this experience, I hadn’t ever mourned the loss of a mutually biological child. But as we prepared for the TESE, a spark of hope was ignited. I imagined all the wonderful things about Alex mixing with all the familiar things about me in one unique individual, a walking manifestation of our love for one another. I basked in the glorious way that God designed marriage to result in the next generation, how He shared His creative power with us, His creation. I was empowered in a totally different way, thinking of the honor it is to be a child of God. And now that I had developed a desire to share this gift with God, it was being taken away from me.
I was utterly confused by God’s will. “What do You want from me, Lord? I thought You wanted us to adopt, but that hasn’t panned out. Then I thought You wanted me to surrender my fear of fertility treatment, and again this isn’t panning out. What else is there?”
(Part Seven to be continued...)