A Fertility Specialist’s Journey with Infertility
Oath’s Fertility Specialist, Cicely Stamper, and her husband
I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy in October 2009. I was a twenty one year old single mother, college senior and trying to figure my life out. My pregnancy was unplanned and I was, at the time, unready for the responsibilities of parenthood. I made the conscious decision to birth this child into the world and do the best I could by him.
For a few years, I was traumatized by the demands of single motherhood.
I finished my bachelor’s degree when he was ten months old, but had yet to find gainful employment. I was raising a child and also navigating my way through my own life. It would be some more years before I fully decided I wanted to become pregnant again and complete my family in a way that made sense for me.
I met and married my husband when I was 31 and he was 39. I had almost given up on finding a partner and a husband to realize my dream of growing my family. When we met and the sparks flew, I knew with everything in me this was what I had waited for. What I didn’t expect was how tough, gut wrenching, insightful and interesting our journey to conceive would be.
I naively believed that because I had previously been pregnant and my husband had fathered children that it wouldn’t be difficult to become pregnant. We started out with one hurdle that I thought we would easily overcome: my husband’s vasectomy. I researched for a good six months about our options. Vasectomies are reversible, but there are many factors that influence the success of the procedure. We opted for the reversal and in April 2021 my husband underwent surgery with a fellowship trained urologist.
The reversal was initially successful and I was so excited and hopeful for the chance to finally get to try for our baby. Sadly, after six weeks of having a viable sperm count my husband’s numbers dropped to zero. After almost a year of zero results on semen analyses and speaking with my husband’s surgeon, it is very likely that the surgery site pulled apart and/or scarred over. We both dealt with so many emotions surrounding the failed surgery. I felt a deep sadness I had never experienced. I felt resentful and vulnerable. I felt broken. I was scared about what all of it could mean. Seeing those zero results solidified what I had known since meeting my husband, I wanted to give birth to more children and I wasn’t sure I could feel whole without doing so.
I felt sad and isolated in my situation. I was never told I should be happy with the one biological child and five stepchildren I have, but I was in a strange limbo where I felt I should just be happy for the beautiful family we already have. As a nurse, I’ve cried with families following a miscarriage or stillbirth. I felt like I should be lucky I had never experienced that level of pain. But in my heart, I knew I couldn’t be at peace until we had tried everything we could to have our baby.
Then, I began to talk to my husband about IVF. We knew we couldn’t afford treatment and neither one of us were willing to take out crippling debt to do so. I decided to take a deep dive into my health and work on the things I could control. I have always been in tune with my body and kept up on my general and gynecological health. I started seeing a Naturopathic Doctor to help clean up my diet and rule out allergies or autoimmune issues and I saw my PCP to get baseline labs and check on my overall health. I saw my OB/GYN for my annual exam and labs. Everything came back normal and within range. I lowered my A1C from 5.8% to 5.5%. I lost about fifteen pounds. I then asked my OB/GYN for a referral to a Reproductive Endocrinologist. I had a consult with a fertility clinic for IVF in December 2021, but there was more testing to be done before pursuing IVF.
At my request, the doctor put in an order for me to schedule an HSG (Hysterosalpingography, an x-ray test to visualize the shape of the uterus and show whether the fallopian tubes are blocked). The results determined I have a blockage in my right tube. It just seemed at every turn the Universe was working against us.
Today, we’re still in family planning mode. It has been a year of ovulation tracking, getting healthier, testing and waiting. We’re looking at all the options for both of us and trying to figure out what we want our family to look and how we’re going to make that happen. It has tested me mentally and physically. This struggle has tested the bounds of our marriage. While it has bent us, I am so thankful it has not broken us the way I know it has so many families.
I share my story now because for so long I have kept it under wraps. There is an unnecessary shame that goes along with secondary infertility. There is so much resentment and blame wrapped into trying (and not succeeding) at having more children. There can be judgment for those of us who have a child or children and want more. There is an overwhelming sense of disappointment in your own body “failing” you after it once did what you needed it to do. You blame yourself, you blame your spouse, you start to feel resentment creep into many areas of your life. It can consume you if you don’t have the tools and support you need to navigate this difficult time.
My husband and I have experienced a wide spectrum of emotions. I’m writing about our story, my story to let people know that they are not alone. I want it to be known that there is hope. We all have a right to expand and plan our families how we see fit. We all have the right to get the support we need on our family building journeys. You are not broken and your worth is not defined by your ability to produce more children.
The unfortunate reality is that we all may not get our “rainbow” baby or another child or children after our first one, but it doesn’t make us any less of a parent to the children we were able to bring Earthside. For those who have dealt with secondary infertility or are in the throes at this very moment, know that you are not alone. You are seen, you are heard, you are valued and you are understood. We are in this together.