What the women in the waiting room are thinking

empty crib against green triangle wallpaper

By Amy Klein

Younger than me, older than me, prettier than me, richer than me.

It may be petty, but this was what was usually going through my mind when I was at one of my many fertility clinics. What else was I supposed to do during those endless waits?

Why is that woman here if she already has a baby? I’d think about the frantic female whose wild child was running circles around the waiting room, reminding the rest of us of our empty wombs.

God, that girl is so lucky, she can’t be even thirty and she has so much time to figure out her fertility, I’d think about the fresh-faced millennial thumbing through her phone. 

Really, you never know what someone else is going through. 

When you’re sitting in the waiting room, comparing yourself to others and fantasizing how their life—and fertility journey—is better than yours, you aren’t seeing another person in all her complexity.

Here are their stories.

Young and Infertile

“You have time! You’re so young!” friends, family, and medical professionals were always telling Zoe, who went off birth control shortly before her wedding at thirty-two so she and her husband, Adam, could get pregnant. She never did get her period, and after a few months, a gynecologist diagnosed her with hyperthyroidism, excitedly sending her straight to IVF.  

The fertility doctor even promised he’d have her pregnant by the holidays—a month later! But then Adam was diagnosed with male factor infertility, too.

“It’s so frustrating to be ‘young’: I’m just as desperate to get pregnant as anyone over thirty-five,” Zoe says.

“My age didn’t mean a thing in our case: We’re young and still have severe, complicated fertility issues.” Besides, if you’re young at the fertility clinic, then the standard “it’s your age” is not the cause. Something is actually wrong.

Zoe says having an “out of the box” case with no diagnosis was extremely frustrating: The fact that she has time means she could be doing it for another five years—not to mention spend an obscene amount of money. “I felt . . . hopeless. Alone. Doomed. As if someone is out to get me.”

Secondary Infertility

CNN journalist Elissa Strauss sometimes took her toddler son with her when she went for fertility treatment. Strauss had secondary infertility, a term that means a woman has had children. 

IVF was really, really hard for her. At certain times during the process, “I was a mess. I was bawling, I was totally unhinged,” she says. What was also hard was trying to navigate the process with a kid in tow.

“Practically, it’s a nightmare,” she says. “Figuring out the childcare, you have to get out of the house early, you and your husband work…” She understands why clinics don’t want children in the waiting room. “It’s coming from a really good place, but secondary infertility is really common,” she says. “It’s hard for a working person, period—never mind a working parent.”

It can be hard on a marriage, too, she says, because while she was doing treatment, her husband had to pick up the slack with their kid. “I saw everyone else at the clinic with their husbands and I would feel resentful,” she says. (I guess it goes both ways!) “I didn’t blame him—you just get in the survival mode. There’s only so much you can do.” 

Did she ever have guilt about wanting another kid when she already had one?

“No guilt,” she replies. “Just like you imagine yourself as a mom, I imagine myself as a mom of two kids.” She is one of four and is “very tight” with her siblings, and “I really wanted my child to experience that,” she says.

She knows that wanting a kid when you already have one is much easier than wanting a kid when you don’t have one. She didn’t experience the existential angst of, “ ‘I will never know what motherhood is like,’ ” she says. “I’d imagined a different version of motherhood, but I’m still a mother.” During treatment, “it’s better to go home to a child than go home to a quiet house,” she muses.

IVF for Genetic Reasons

Jean Hannah Edelstein wasn’t actually infertile when she found out she’d need fertility treatment. At thirty-two, the writer and marketer learned she had Lynch syndrome, a rare hereditary genetic condition that has a high risk of colon cancer as well as other cancers. Finally, she understood her familial history—her father had died of lung cancer and his mom had died of colon cancer. She’d need to get a preventative hysterectomy at around forty. And her offspring would have a 50 percent chance of inheriting the disease.

“You can do IVF to avoid passing Lynch syndrome on to your kids,” the doctor told her. She would have to do preimplanation genetic diagnosis (PGD) to test embryos for a specific disorder. (I’ll discuss this more in chapter 20.)

“I wasn’t thinking of having kids or IVF. I was thirty-two!” she says, noting her last relationship had ended at thirty. “I saw kids in my future—my mom had my sister when she was thirty-nine! And my mom was born to a mother who was thirty-nine.”

Since she’d eventually have to do IVF anyway to obtain healthy embryos, it made sense to freeze her eggs as soon as possible.

Edelstein looked into freezing her eggs, but then met the man who would become her husband. “Are you with the man you want to have kids with?” her doctor asked her. She was, so they began the business of creating embryos for testing. “It felt unfair that we could get pregnant naturally and yet we had to do this convoluted thing,” she says. During treatment, she’d be out in the world, for instance, at a yoga class, where a woman would say it took her a few months to get pregnant, and she thought, “I can’t believe people have sex and have a baby—their journey is so different.” On the other hand, she knows she’s lucky. “On the flip side, I know people who struggle with IVF for years and never get pregnant.” 

After two rounds of IVF, they had seven embryos to test—and miraculously, none had the disease. “The genetic counselor was shocked,” Edelstein says, noting she was glad she did it. What if I had a kid that had Lynch syndrome and he got sick?” she says. “I  have the ability to prevent that.”

So next time you’re in the waiting room coveting someone’s youth/ wealth/wardrobe, know that there is always more to the story than meets the eye.

IMG_56780-2From the book THE TRYING GAME: Get Through Fertility Treatment and Get Pregnant Without Losing Your Mind by Amy Klein. Copyright © 2020 by Amy Klein. Publishing by Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.

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