Feb 13, 2011

great expectations

The summer I was 17, I got my first lab job. I owe a lot to the principal investigator who was open-minded and altruistic enough to hire a high school student for the summer, and I can definitely say that the two summers I spent in his lab heavily influenced my choice to become a researcher and not go to medical school (gasp!).

One thing M. said to me before hiring me was that I needed to realize what doing molecular biology on a daily basis was all about - basically mixing miniscule amounts of things that look like water with other things that also look like water. He just wanted to make sure I had realistic expectations of what I just signed up for. He said, from his point of view, my happiness in lab that summer and perhaps with science in general, would be dictated in large part by the distance (or lack thereof) between my expectations and reality.

Many years later I still hold this little nugget of wisdom as a universal truth - the closer your expectations align with reality, the more content you are likely to be with your current situation. You can probably see where I am headed with this, but in no other experience in my life, has the distance between my expectations and reality been any further than in our quest to start a family.

A lot of my frustration (and even sadness) seems to stem from repeatedly, again and again, failing to meet my expectations, Y's expectations, the expectations of our families, and yes, even the expectations of our doctors when it comes to getting (and staying) pregnant. I am sure my story of chronic failure to meet these expectations is relatively common, especially among those of us who arrived here with no suspicious histories and no other warnings.

When we started TTC at 25 and 33 with no history of previous problems, young and healthy as they say (currently 27 and 35 and still young and healthy), we were both quite confident that within 6 months of well-timed intercourse, we'd be expecting. After one cycle, even two, it was still easy to believe that we were just swimmingly fertile but so far unlucky. After 6 months, the nagging, suffocating feeling that maybe we weren't like everyone else and this wasn't going to be so easy, set in. Still, I took great solace in all the women I met on TTC message boards who got pregnant after 8, 9, even 10 months of earnestly trying - if they got pregnant, so could I.

As a year began to close in on us, we knew that we wanted to do some initial testing. We left our first appointment with the RE feeling about as optimistic as we had the first month we started trying. While other people left their first RE appointments downtrodden and depressed, being told they were "officially infertile" and had a difficult road ahead, we left happy as clams and confident that our problems were something a few Clomid and a bottle of wine could easily fix. With our own expectations long quashed, our RE had great new expectations for us. He mapped out on a sheet of paper the number of couples with no previously diagnosed problem unable to conceive within a year. He told us that among women my age like myself, in his experience, 80% would get pregnant within a few Clomid+IUI and FSH+IUI cycles. It was only the straggling 20% who would ultimately need IVF to conceive.

And for a brief time, we did meet both our and someone else's expectations, when I got pregnant following my 2nd IUI. Again, after our first ultrasound, we were reassured that the chances of a miscarriage were quite low - we had expectations that we would keep this pregnancy. Of course those expectations went out the window, too, once we learned our baby didn't have a heartbeat a few weeks later. After that, the RE was quite confident we would be pregnant again in no time.

Needless to say we are on our 5th IUI and still nothing (and my implication certainly isn't that 5 IUIs are a lot in IF World, but rather that it again falls short of the expectations that were perhaps unfairly set for us personally). Oh, and that pesky myoma I was initially told not to worry about? Apparently I should be concerned enough now that it is not in fact subserosal and needs to likely come out in the next year.

Y gets exasperated by my perpetual "what-ifs", my constant need to always have some worst-case scenario tucked in the back of my head. I get exasperated by his unwavering optimism, his genuine belief that next cycle is always the one that is going to make our dreams come true. I believe that such unwavering optimism can be dangerous eventually, that it can blind you from the truth and keep you steadfastly devoted to a path that no longer logically makes sense (I do not believe that this is happening to us yet, but if we are still without baby or viable pregnancy in a year, I would be ready to consider adoption, whereas Y seems unable to even contemplate giving up our dream of a biological child, even if it means endlessly cycling like a hamster on a wheel).

I get so tired of constantly failing everyone's expectations. If at any point, someone could have looked me in the eye, whether it be my husband, my parents, my doctor...whomever and could have said to me that this is going to be very hard and we have no idea when it will end or what the resolution will be, maybe I would feel much better about the state of things. Then if I succeeded, I could think that I beat the odds, I could believe that this is my miracle baby, instead of every single time being reminded that once again I have failed miserably to meet the basic expectations set out by someone else.


  1. I feel you girl! I feel this way too! A few months ago when I said I just feel likes it not going to happen anytime soon if at all and my mom goes you've become such a negative person. Well thats what happens after 3 years. At least I don't get my hopes to far up to be crushed by AF. I truly believe God has a plan for both of us. Hang in there!

  2. I know what you mean...I never in a million years expected that we would wind up on this road dealing with infertility and IVF. When you are young and healthy it's the last thing you expect.

    Sending you lots of hugs. Hopefully we will both get our happy endings one day. xx

  3. Wow, what a good bit of advice from the lab advisor. I wish someone had told me that academia is full of PIs that will make your PhD years so horrid that you will wish that you hadn't let your enjoyment of mixing tiny volumes of colorless liquids veer you away from med school in the first place. Me? Cynical? Nah!

    And you're absolutely right- that negative and cynical attitude developed in the family building arena for me, too. I never had problems getting pregnant, only staying pregnant. I kept saying "if this baby is born safely" right until Buddy's birth. I know it drove many of my friends crazy, but it was what I had to do to get through the fear. If my expectations were rock bottom, then they could only be met, or I would be pleasantly surprised if things worked out.

    In this vein, if you need a laugh and haven't already seen it, search YouTube for the Zheng lab's Gaga parody "Bad Project.". I nearly died laughing. Lab humor at its finest.

  4. I know completely how you feel.... expectations can be in overdrive on this fertility journey then the reality kicks in :( We'll all make it there one day :)) xo

  5. Isn't that the truth? I wish that my first doctor had looked me in the eye and said that she didn't know how long this would take and that it might not be easy. Instead, she wrote me a prescription for Clomid and told me that the next time I would see her I would be pregnant.

    Sending positive vibes your way.

  6. I could have written this post myself. I feel the same way. Sometimes we are our harshest critics. It's something I'm learning not do to..but it takes time I guess.