Infertility: A Tale of Two Sisters


In less than two weeks — and I can’t believe I am writing this — I will turn 42. In two months, my beautiful, rambunctious, often exasperating son, Joey, will turn 2. At times it still seems unreal that he is here at all.

Like the women interviewed for this series, I spent a significant part of my 30s struggling with infertility, as did my only sister, Susan, now 40. Our paths were at once very similar and very different, and while we shared many of our frustrations at the time, there is much we couldn’t talk about until recently.

Neither of us will ever know if age was a factor in our respective infertilities, but the question is almost academic. Like many women just out of college, marriage and children weren’t even on our radar screens in our early and mid 20s.

Tom and I got married the day after my 29th birthday, and we felt no particular urgency to start a family. I cried to friends that I wasn’t ready when I found myself pregnant soon after our second anniversary, and cried again three weeks later when the bleeding started.

When I became pregnant a second time, we were ready with a vengeance. At eight weeks we were picking out nursery furniture and battling over baby names. I had read just about everything in the infant and toddler section of our branch library and was moving on to adolescent development when I had my second miscarriage in the last weeks of my first trimester.

This time we wanted answers, and we soon got them. But, as anyone with just about any type of infertility can tell you, having a diagnosis doesn’t necessarily bring you closer to a cure. The specialists we saw over the next few years chalked my problem up to an immunological fluke, which may have caused in the placenta that resulted in miscarriage.

Several specialists, a host of low-tech treatments, and two more miscarriages later, we had almost given up when our latest fertility doctor suggested a controversial procedure called leukocyte immune transfusion. In short, was taken from my husband and centrifuged, and his white blood cells were injected into me.

My fifth pregnancy was fairly uneventful, although we read no baby books and purchased little furniture until our son was safely home from the hospital. I don’t know if the treatment made the difference. My doctor tells me that recent studies suggest it is not effective, and he now recommends it only for a select group of patients with recurrent pregnancy loss.

I just accept our good fortune as the miracle that it is.

My sister, who also married at 29, spent her early 30s working as a film producer while her husband, Scott, finished graduate school. After he graduated they tried for two years to conceive on their own with no success.

They lost count of the number of specialists they saw over the next five years. Each repeated the tests the others had done, but none ever found a clear cause for her inability to conceive. They came to find out this was not unusual — as many as one in four women who can’t get pregnant have unexplained infertility.

They also lost count of the number of fertility drugs Susan ended up taking and the number of times she had IUIs, in which sperm is injected directly into the uterus — she thinks it’s 10. Her final specialist recommended in vitro fertilization, and, like thousands of couples, she and Scott were faced with spending $12,000-$15,000 for a procedure they were told had a one in five chance of working.

An unapologetic control freak, my sister says feeling powerless over her situation was almost unbearable. The endless doctor visits and uncertainty sent her into a depression and affected her physical health. She remembers bursting into tears during her first (and last) visit to a new specialist, because the woman spent a total of three minutes with her before rushing off to see her next patient.

“I will never forget the moment when I looked at Scott and said, ‘It’s over,'” she says. “I told him, ‘no more drugs, no more doctors, no more 20% chance of a baby.’ And it was a huge relief. We didn’t have to be sad anymore.”

Their story, however, has a happy ending, and her name is Martha Eliza (Ella), now 14 months old.

Ella has been in our lives for four months now, adopted from Guangxi province in China. I will never forget meeting her for the first time in the wee hours of the morning May 19, when her weary but elated parents arrived home after two days on a plane.

Although we live in different cities, Susan and I see each other often. We spent Labor Day weekend watching Joey and Ella get to know each other, and comparing notes, for the sake of this story, on our roads to motherhood. Different roads, to be sure, but they ended in the same place.