Sandy, a child advocate employed by the Province of Ontario, vacillated for most of her adult years about whether she wanted kids. At one point she considered co-parenting with a gay friend, but when he moved away from her home base of Toronto, the idea fizzled. “I never really thought about doing that with anyone else.”
That changed when, at 38, Sandy met her husband, Steve. “I thought, ‘If I’m going to have kids, this is the guy to have kids with.’” Steve, who was five years older and had one child from a previous marriage, started off a bit ambivalent to the idea, but Sandy brought him around and the couple began trying for a baby. After four or five months, they had yet to have any luck and decided on a referral to a fertility clinic. In Sandy’s mind, the clinic was just a form of insurance. “I just thought it was a matter of trying and it would happen, but because of my age I didn’t want to mess around too long.”
Read more: 5 reasons you’re not getting pregnant>
With the help of the clinic, Sandy began monitoring her cycles to pinpoint when she was ovulating. Her mornings consisted of pre-dawn clinic stops to have blood taken and an internal ultrasound before heading into work. At some point in the day, she’d get a call from someone at the clinic with an update on her ovulation status. Depending on the results, she would rush home to have sex with Steve, or finish out the day and repeat it all again tomorrow. “It became another job, basically. And for the first few cycles we thought, ‘Oh, this is going to happen. I’m going to get pregnant right away, it’s going to be so awesome.’ But then I didn’t.”
For Sandy, the first failed cycle was “devastating.” After nearly a year of trying naturally, the couple transitioned into a series of intrauterine inseminations, or IUIs. The couple underwent at least six monthly procedures wherein Steve’s sperm was injected directly into Sandy’s uterus through a catheter. “You put the sperm right where the egg is at the right time, and you think that’ll be it,” Sandy says. But none were successful.
Paradoxically, when the couple decided to take a break from fertility treatments, Sandy became pregnant a handful of times. “The first time they called and told me I was pregnant, I just thought, ‘OK!’ It didn’t even occur to me that I could lose the pregnancy.”
Sandy suffered her first miscarriage at three weeks’ gestation. In her subsequent pregnancies, doctors had her take medication (anticoagulants, progesterone) to see if drugs would help her body hang on. “After about three miscarriages, it was getting harder to go through it all and to give myself needles every night,” Sandy recalled. “I found them extremely painful. They’d leave huge lumps and your stomach is full of bruises. Your ass is full of progesterone. That pain, every single night, was just a part of the whole thing that wore me out.”
Read more: The roller-coaster ride of infertility>
Still, with each pregnancy, Sandy seemed to make it a little further along—four weeks, five weeks, even nine or so. But the losses kept piling up. And they were increasingly crushing. “It’s very hard on your body, and emotionally, you’re on this roller coaster—the ‘hope and despair cycle,’ I called it.”
Determined to have a successful pregnancy, the couple borrowed some money and decided to try one cycle of in-vitro fertilization, or IVF. The price tag was $15,000 on top of the thousands they had already spent. “We didn’t want to turn back before we tried one round of IVF. Financially and emotionally, though, we were really getting to the end of our rope,” she says.
At one point, Sandy was injecting $1,000 of medicine, daily, to no avail. “My body didn’t respond well to the medication that was trying to help it create more eggs. They have all these terms for it that make you feel like crap: ‘poor responder,’ ‘geriatric mother,’ ‘advanced maternal age.’ It’s devastating. You think your body is totally turning on you. I had this relationship with my body where I was like, ‘You are not reliable. Why are you not just creating a pregnancy and keeping it?’ This is insane.”
After Sandy’s fifth miscarriage—by now she was 42—she decided to take a break from the clinic. “I couldn’t do it anymore. I was really losing it,” she recalls.
On their own, Sandy and Steve conceived once again. “I thought, ‘Well, I want to keep this pregnancy. I’ll go back to the clinic and have them monitor it until I’m in a safe place to go to an OB/GYN.’” At eight weeks, Sandy had an ultrasound that put her over the moon. “The baby’s heart was beating. I finally got to walk out of the clinic with these pictures—we’d never done that, and I’d seen so many people do it. Steve was totally excited. There was no more ambivalence at this point.”
Steve excitedly announced the pregnancy to their close friends at a party the couple hosted soon after. “We said either way, however this goes, we’re going to need the support of our friends. So let’s tell them,” Sandy remembers. “People were praying for us. Whether you believe in that or not, it doesn’t hurt to have all that positive energy out there when you’ve worked so hard to get pregnant.”
At an ultrasound soon after, Sandy’s hopes plummeted when, instead of turning the screen to show the heartbeat, her favourite technician abruptly left the room to get a doctor. When the pair returned, the doctor confirmed Sandy’s suspicion. “The baby had died. I’ve never felt despair like that. I still relive the moment…. The silence, all the excitement sucked right out of the room. I just wanted to die. I didn’t know what to do.”
Because of the fertility medications she was on, Sandy would not have miscarried naturally. After the drugs had left her system, she had a dilation and curettage, or D&C, at her fertility clinic. (A D&C is a surgical procedure used commonly in first trimester terminations. The doctor uses small instruments or a medication to open, or dilate, the cervix, and then uses a surgical instrument called a curette to remove uterine tissue.) While she was grateful to have the procedure at the fertility clinic—opposed to the more standard hospital or abortion clinic—she still found the procedure “awful.” It sent her into a steep backslide. She had lost baby number six.
“Emotionally, I fell apart. I had a hard time getting to work. I was crying most of the day. I work in an office where every office is glass—there was nowhere you could hide,” Sandy says, adding, “This time I couldn’t move on.”
Between them, the couple had a lot of people to tell about their loss. But there was a silver lining. “Two great things came out of that: Almost all those people said something supportive. We wouldn’t have had that if we hadn’t shared the news already.”
After this loss (which the Katzes learned, via autopsy, had been a girl), Sandy got pregnant one more time. That baby, like its siblings, barely made it past the first trimester. Sandy was booked for yet another D&C. The couple opted not to take their quest for a baby any further.
“For us, we felt we had to walk away,” says Sandy. She and Steve are now living in a condo instead of the house they had envisioned one day filling with children. “It’s been hard. I feel like I’ve been to hell and back, really. A lot of times people talk about infertility and then they get pregnant. But there are those of us who never get pregnant. People don’t want to know us—they don’t want to consider it. I didn’t want to know people like me. But it’s OK. My husband and I have a great life. It’s not the choice we made, but we’re making the most of it. We can travel, we can pick up and go, and I love that we can indulge our friends’ children.”