I have always wanted to be a mother, and I have always assumed I would be one.
I can’t say that I ever wanted to be pregnant, though. Some people have that internal maternal clock that ticks away—mine was on permanent snooze. Nothing about being “with child” appealed to me, except the end result. I was willing to become pregnant, of course, but it was an end-justifies-the-means kind of thing. In that aspect, I guess it was karma that guided my journey through the frustrating lands of infertility.
When my husband and I decided to get knocked up, I stopped taking the birth control I’d been on for a decade. A month later, I missed my first period. That was easy, I thought. Except I wasn’t pregnant. Turns out I had a growth on my pituitary gland, which prevented regular periods. Fortunately, it was an issue easily corrected with medication. But that was just the beginning, and from there on out, nothing about becoming a mother was going to be easy.
Once my cycle became regular, I was instructed to start tracking it–start days, high fertility days–and if nothing happened naturally in a few months, the doctor said we’d talk about next steps. I took the task way too seriously, and it became my job to become one with my cycle. But after three months, nothing.
The next step, called IUI or intrauterine insemination, works like this: Three days after starting my period, I would take the fertility drug Clomid twice a day for the next four days. Clomid stimulates your ovaries to ovulate and sometimes more than one egg is released at a time (more eggs, increased odds). After the four days of pills, I would start taking daily ovulation tests to see when I was ovulating (smiley face = ovulating). Some months it felt like forever to see that dang smiley face, and when I did see it, that was my prompt to inject myself with HCG, a hormone that helps the uterus prepare for implantation. (One of my proudest accomplishments through this journey was how I lost my fear of needles. Good thing, too. With all the injections and blood tests involved, I never would have survived.)
Within 12 hours of the injection, I would take a semen sample from my husband to my doctor’s office, where they would inject it at the base of my uterus. That location gives the sperm a better chance to find its way to the egg, kind of like dropping them off at the front door of the egg’s Airbnb (which happens to be a fallopian tube). But after six months, nada.
My doctor suggested in vitro fertilization (IVF). And if IUI is like dropping sperm off at the front door, IVF is like taking the sperm and the egg to fancy hotel with great mood lighting and really nice sheets and tucking them into a bed together. A very expensive bed. And even then, it doesn’t always work.
My husband and I considered the $20,000-plus price tag of IVF. Then we decided to explore adoption through a private adoption agency. But there we were faced with a long and more expensive process than IVF.
Both IVF and private adoption are huge risks. What if we dropped 20 grand and I just couldn’t get or stay pregnant? What if the birth parents changed their mind? So many unanswerable questions.
This uncertainty led us to an information night to become foster parents through the Department of Health and Human Services. Fostering is risky, too. There’s the risk of falling in love with a child who is then reunited with family after weeks, months or even years. But my husband and I decided that night: There were children who needed us, and the risk was worth the reward. We became licensed foster parents in January of 2016, and although our goal is foster-to-adopt, love is never wasted, especially on the children who need it the most.
Michelle Belanger is an amateur stand-up comedian and self-diagnosed barren woman who lives in Old Orchard Beach with her super-understanding husband, two very demanding dogs and seven chickens. When she’s not tracking her ovulation and body temperature, she works with under-resourced children and their families in downtown Portland and drinks wine (not at the same time).