By Jessica Player as told to Vanessa MilneUpdated Jun 05, 2018
Courtesy: Jessica Player
My husband, Mark, has a genetic condition called Klinefelter syndrome, which causes problems with sperm production and makes it difficult to have kids. Luckily, we found out about it in advance—when my husband got hit in the groin during a floor hockey game, his doctor tested his sperm and discovered that he has the condition. When we decided we wanted to have a baby, we put our name on a waiting list for a fertility clinic.
Trying to get pregnant isn’t usually something you share with the world, but from the moment we got a referral to a fertility specialist, I started talking to my friends about what we were doing. For us, having a baby would involve intracytoplasmic sperm injection, which is a type of in vitro fertilization (IVF) where they put the sperm right into the egg before inserting it into me. That meant I was going to have to take medication so I could produce a lot of eggs—I joked that it would turn me into a frog. A doctor would harvest the eggs, like 10 at once, and fertilize as many as possible.
I never thought of trying to conceive as something that should be private. My husband is also very open—even more than me. I would usually say something like “We have fertility issues and, luckily, we found out early.” But Mark would tell people, “I got hit in the balls and found out I have Klinefelter’s, which makes me produce very low levels of testosterone and have a very low sperm count and poor sperm mobility. Now I’m on testosterone, which makes me sterile, so I also have some frozen sperm.” Sometimes, after seeing our friends, I would tell him, “You probably don’t need to go into that much detail.”
We discussed it with everyone, whether we had people over for dinner or went for coffee with friends. We would explain what was happening, and I’d get a chance to talk about everything I was going through to try to have a baby.
I had heard of the three-month rule—where you’re supposed to wait three months to tell people that you’re pregnant because miscarriages are common in the first trimester—but the idea of having to reveal a miscarriage, if that happened, didn’t bother me too much. It probably helped that we didn’t have to go through what many people with infertility do: all those years of trying and not being successful and all the emotions that come along with that.
It was so helpful to be able to talk about it and get my friends’ support because I found the IVF process so difficult. I had to go in every other day for a vaginal ultrasound and take hormone shots every four hours. I felt like I wasn’t in control of my body, I wasn’t in control of my hormones and, on top of that, I was making a huge life decision: to start a family.
When I found out that I had to go for all those ultrasounds and give myself shots so frequently, I decided to tell everyone at work, too. I’m an engineer in the oil and gas industry, and my team is almost entirely male. But they were all very supportive. They didn’t ask any awkward questions—they were just happy for us that we were trying for a kid.
Telling my colleagues made it much easier: I didn’t have to pretend I wasn’t all hopped up on hormones or hide my injections. I didn’t want to do the shots in the bathroom, where someone could walk in, so I did them in my office in front of my co-worker. If I’d had to sneak around, it would have felt so onerous.
I ended up developing ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS) from all the hormones I was taking through IVF. The condition made me retain so much water that it was hard for me to walk, and I had to take two weeks off work. Fortunately, I got pregnant with my daughter, Addison, on our first try, and the OHSS resolved itself almost right away once I was pregnant.
A few years later, we decided to try for our second child. We had frozen some extra embryos the first time around, which made the process simpler. That time, I got pregnant with our second daughter, Isabelle. It wasn’t entirely without problems—we had two embryos that didn’t implant along the way—but it was easier in a lot of ways because I didn’t have to miss work or do the injections. We told all our friends again, but this time I didn’t feel the need to tell my co-workers.
Through all of this, we were much more open than the average couple about what was going on—and I have no regrets. Being able to talk about it normalized the situation, gave me an outlet and stopped it from being this huge thing that I had to deal with myself. Even though we were alone in what was happening, we never felt alone.