Before launching into posts about motherhood, I wanted to spend a post discussing the struggle Ash and I went through to get pregnant. It wasn’t as difficult as it was for some couples, it took about six months from start to conception, but it was an emotionally turbulent six months filled with hope and a lot of disappointment.
I am merely sharing my experience, so please do not take any of my observations as advice or “how-to” when it comes to trying to conceive. Everyone’s story is different and uniquely personal to them.
Deciding to Start a Family
Growing up I never wanted to have kids.
I was of two minds on the subject: I didn’t want to contribute to possible overpopulation and I thought I would be a terrible mother. Back in high school, I did some research for a prepared speech on veganism and one of the sources I found talked about how having children was detrimental to the environment.
Super idealistic and driven to save the world at 16, I decided that I didn’t want to have kids to do my part. Looking back, this is a fantastic attitude to prevent having kids but easy to do when you don’t have a boyfriend.
This attitude stayed with me for a long time and I built upon it as I grew older: children limit your time, your resources, your ability to do anything fun. Children were a ball-and-chain and I wanted nothing to do with it.
I also hadn’t met anyone until Ash that I wanted to have children with so again, this was no major sacrifice on my part.
Ash was of a similar attitude when we first met. He didn’t want to have kids for much of the same reasons and so we settled on an agreement to not consider having children. At least for several years into our relationship and marriage.
Unfortunately for me, biology had other plans. I was in a stable relationship, income, house…we had the means to be parents and my body said it’s GO TIME.
As baby fever started to grow, Ash and I decided that we still weren’t ready to consider children just yet. This was before my diagnosis and I was in the middle of my graduate program.
So we adopted a third cat instead.
The little furbaby did his job for about three years, but when 2015 rolled around and I was two years into my diagnosis I reached a critical point: if I was to have children, it needed to be before I was 35. There was the potential that my MS would transition into SPMS by the time I was 40 and I wanted to have at least five years of quality time with any child.
Thus started the fun negotiations of “should we/shouldn’t we” with Ash.
Starting around March of 2015, I sat Ash down to discuss starting a family. He was open to the discussion but reticent to agree due to his previous concerns about his ability to parent.
Up until that point, we had several friends get pregnant, so the topic of having children had come up from time-to-time. During those discussions, Ash indicated he was more open to starting a family now than he was when we first met. He, like me, started to shift his mindset over children.
He had concerns about how it would affect my MS, and to be fair, MS is a dark presence in the back of our relationship, but I had done my research and women who get pregnant sometimes see a reduction of MS symptoms. While I would be off medication for the duration of the pregnancy, I should be safe from any flare-ups/exacerbations due to biology.
I really wanted to make sure this was an equal agreement between the two of us and with some patience, I was able to assure Ash that he would be a wonderful father.
Children were a leap of faith and I wanted to take it with him.
The Best Laid Plans…
I am rather meticulous with my planning.
My life could be cluttered in a thousand different ways, but when it comes to something important, I have a plan in place either in my head or on paper.
Prior to getting pregnant, there were several things I needed to plan for: dropping my MS medication, how to deal with my MS, when I was getting pregnant, and when I was not getting pregnant (more on that later).
I was on Tecfidera, an MS management drug at the time we started discussing a family. Because Tecfidera is a relatively new drug, there aren’t enough longitudinal studies of its effects on unborn and breastfeeding children. I would need to quit taking the medication and to be extra safe, wait an extra month before trying to conceive.
While I could switch back to Copaxone and take that for the duration of my pregnancy, I started getting really bad injection site reactions that made it difficult to be willing to take the medication on a regular basis. It was the main reason why I switched to Tecfidera in the first place.
My neurologist was unconcerned about my chances of getting a flare-up, so he gave his blessing for me to go it without any medication. This meant that I would have to manage my MS through behavior modification until I was ready to start back on medication.
At Ash’s urging, I started seeing a therapist around this time so I could manage my emotions and stress better. It was also a means to help me deal with some deeper stuff and address the previous concerns I had as a teenager over my abilities to parent.
The next step would be to figure out when I was willing to get pregnant and therefore when I would give birth. I had to get pregnant between July and September so I could give birth between April and June of the following year. I would skip trying to get pregnant between October and November because I did NOT want to give birth in the middle of the summer. Not in the South. We’d resume trying December through September before taking another break.
By timing the baby between April and June it meant that I could finish up the semester teaching and then have the summer off to spend time with the baby before jumping back into my graduate program.
As some of you who’ve been through the process already know, this plan was ambitious.
The Problem with Sex Education
I blame public school sex education with my naive approach to getting pregnant.
I was told that all it took was having unprotected sex one time for a woman to get pregnant. It wasn’t as hyperbolic as that, but the message was similar: unprotected sex, no matter what time of the month (even on a woman’s period) meant that you would get pregnant. I assumed that after trying a couple of tries we’d get pregnant.
After July turned into August and I still wasn’t pregnant, I started doing some more research on the matter. Turns out that the time of the month does matter and we’d have to be more precise about when we tried conceiving.
I was resistant to getting too technical about the whole process because I didn’t want it to feel like a job. There had to be some level of romance in the whole process. Ash was already expressing understandable concerns over the pressure of timing.
Having this attitude, while nice, did set me up for heartbreak. It magnified the heartbreak given the strict confines of my pre-set timeline. If I had gone in with the attitude of “we are going to play this cool and unscientific, I cannot expect to get pregnant within a specific span of time,” I would have been less emotionally invested in the process. When I got a negative pregnancy test, instead of being extremely frustrated, I would have gone with the flow and said: “better luck next month.”
Because I was so anxious to get pregnant and I was unwilling to be more proactive about it, i.e. ovulation tracking, it led me down a road of several months of extreme disappointment that could have been avoided.
Heartbreak at Others’ Triumph
During the time we started trying having a baby, three other women I knew got pregnant before me.
Each and every announcement was difficult to handle. Two were announced over social media, so I was able to privately cope with my jealousy while hitting the “like” button and tapping in my “congratulations!” to them.
The third (and last one) was announced in person and I was surrounded by a bunch of people. I made Ash leave early so I could cry over the whole thing at home. I think that particular announcement kicked my desire to try into a higher gear. I bought some ovulation tests and was more vigilant over the matter when we tried later that month.
Learning to Relax
Additionally, I started to relax more.
While actively trying to conceive, I followed the CDC recommendations of not drinking at all, watching what I ate, and taking all the prenatal vitamins I could. Because we were coming off of my self-imposed moratorium (no births for July and August!), I was already in some “bad” prenatal habits. Rather than reverting back into “don’t do all these things,” I just allowed myself to have fun. If I got pregnant I would stop immediately, but I was no longer letting it dictate all aspects of my life.
What this meant, though, is that I wasn’t stressing out over the whole thing. I would track my fertility and if we could make an effort, we would. I finally shifted into that attitude of “better luck next month.”
I was feeling more optimistic as we headed towards the end of the month. I wasn’t sure how long I could sustain this optimism, but I was willing to give it a try.
I Feel Weird
A month had passed since my attitude shift and I was invited to speak at a friend’s college class in the middle of January. We drove up for the weekend to spend time with them and after we settled in, our hosts wanted to take us to a local city for a walk and dinner.
One of the major symptoms of my MS that I have discussed frequently on this blog is fatigue. So when I experience fatigue I assume it’s my MS.
These friends are walkers. They travel abroad on a frequent basis to cities that require a lot of walking to get around. So they always suggest walking as an activity when we get together.
At the time, I was at my heaviest weight, so the idea of getting some exercise before dinner was appealing to me. They took us through this beautiful city walk that felt like it was several miles long but was probably only a quarter-mile. At one point I felt extremely exhausted and requested to sit for a few minutes on a bench before heading back.
I didn’t think anything about it because of my MS. A week earlier I had fainted while walking to a subway stop but I assumed that was related to a cold I was getting over.
After the lecture, I settled back into my life and prepared for the upcoming semester. I watched a friend’s child while she ran some errands later that week and found that the exhausted overwhelmed me again. I assumed this was MS and dealing with a 3-year-old.
When I got home from watching my friend’s child, I decided that it might be a good idea to check what was going on. I was two days late, but that wasn’t unusual because my period, while typically consistent, could be a day or two late at times.
That faint second line appeared on the test. So faint that I took two more tests.
Confirmation. Three times over. I was pregnant.
I still didn’t believe it, but I called Ash up at work because I couldn’t wait the two hours for him to get home. I could hear the emotion and disbelief in his voice. He was thrilled.
It took us six months from start to finish, but we finally were expecting a little one.
Something I learned from this whole experience is that I cannot expect things to happen as easily as I was led to believe. There are a lot more factors in the process of getting pregnant than just getting down to business.
It was also the first time I listened to the life lesson of accepting things I cannot control. I still wasn’t in a place of full acceptance surrounding my MS, but with the process of trying to get pregnant, I finally got there.
I had to get there if I was to raise a child. Accepting myself and my limitations would help reduce my stress that could cause a flare-up.
While my experience is probably typical of many couples, I did learn to be sensitive to other couples who were trying to conceive. I vowed to be self-aware enough to try and be sensitive to others’ struggles when trying to conceive.
I understand that my experience was typical and I cannot speak to how it feels to go years without getting pregnant or needing interventions, but I can imagine how the couple must feel. I can remember my own frustration every time I got my period or pain I felt each time I read or heard an announcement. It will never be the same, but it can inform how I speak to the couple by trying to be sensitive towards their situation.
Should Ash and I ever try to have a second child, I know that I will be more mindful of the process, continue to be relaxed about it, and take a moment to be sensitive to others when announcing it.
I am glad I had the opportunity to go through this process, painful and as frustrating as it was because it gave me a deeper appreciation for life and I have Jai as the result.
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