The Mom Who Found Out How Hard It Can Be to Get Pregnant

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Because no two paths to parenthood look the same, the Cut’s How I Got This Baby invites parents to share their stories. Want to share yours? Email gotbaby@thecut.com and tell us a bit about how you became a parent.

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Matilda always knew she wanted kids, and even set a goal age for becoming a mother. Before she started trying, she was the person in her friend group, she says, who cautioned others not to wait too long. Having problems conceiving as a young, healthy woman was not something she expected would happen to her. She discusses asking for a family-minded commitment from her boyfriend at a young age, what she thought getting pregnant would be like, and how it felt to be a woman of color undergoing IVF.

On knowing what she wanted from a young age. There’s never been a time in my life when I didn’t think that I’d have kids. I don’t think it’s because my parents or family talked about it constantly or anything — I think I just always assumed I’d have children. It was never really a question, for me.

When you’re an adolescent transitioning into an adult, I think most people don’t really think about the future in very concrete terms. But when I was in college, I did start to think about my life in concrete terms. Kids were definitely part of that equation.

I’m from an area of the country, and a culture, where most people have kids by the time they’re 22, 23. I got married when I was 25, which is early by New York standards, but not for where I’m from. Most people I knew were already married by then. I’d given myself — not a deadline, but a goal age for when I wanted to become a mother.

Most women in my family had children by their mid- to late-20s. I know from watching them how tiring the experience of motherhood can be. Not just recovering from birth, but taking care of a newborn, looking after a toddler. I live in a part of Brooklyn where there are a lot of older mothers. I just remember seeing these women on the train who looked so exhausted, with really young children. I just thought, I never want to be an old mother. I want to be a young mother, even if that means trading life experience for energy. To me, it would be worth it.

On discussing the future with a partner. All of that factored into a conversation I had with my then-boyfriend. He was like a lot of guys in their mid-20s: Why don’t we keep doing what we’re doing, aren’t we having fun? But I’d done all the math in my head. I was 23 then. If I had to find a new boyfriend, take the time explore that relationship, get married, maybe not have kids for a few years to enjoy being married, then get pregnant and have kids — that would take freaking forever!

At that point, we’d been dating for three years. Which isn’t that long. But for me, I was so focused on the future — I wanted to know where things were going. If he wasn’t ready to get on this train, it was pulling out of the station whether he was going to come or not. Our discussion about all of this lasted a few days. Initially, he felt like I was being unreasonable. It’s understandable — all the dating-advice columns tell you to never give an ultimatum. But for me, it was just like, either you’re with me or you’re not. I didn’t want to wait around for him to grow up, if he wasn’t ready. I didn’t want to be someone hanging over his head, always pointing toward the clock.

I never really got a hard answer that was like, yes for sure, let’s do this. But he did tell me he could see where I was coming from. I really felt like he was starting to understand why this was so important to me, and what limitations I was up against, as a woman. He made me feel comfortable enough to stay in the relationship.

One day about two years later, we woke up and he was just like, “I decided I wanted to buy the farm!” He had the saying a little bit mixed up — he was going for, Why buy the cow if you can get the milk for free? But I knew what he meant. We got married soon after that.

On getting ready to try. We knew we didn’t want to wait too much longer after getting married to start. My husband was in grad school then, though — we decided to wait until after he was done. He finished grad school the year I turned 29. Leading up to my 29th birthday, I remember thinking, I’m probably going to get pregnant pretty soon after he finishes his program. So I decided I should have a big birthday party. I hadn’t had one in years, and I thought I wouldn’t have one for a long time after that — I’d be pregnant, taking care of a newborn.

A big group of friends went out to lunch, then to a bar. I got extremely shit-faced. I’d planned to not drink the whole time I was trying to conceive, which ended up not really being the case. But that was how I approached it: Let’s do all this fun stuff before we start trying to have a baby, because it’s probably just going to happen. I didn’t want to have any regrets.

We took a big trip abroad, which was when we decided to start actually trying. I remember getting back from that trip and thinking, Do my boobs feel different today? I was analyzing every little symptom. When I wasn’t pregnant that month, I started to feel like, Oh. This isn’t going to be as easy as I thought.

On discussing pregnancy socially. Among my friends, I was that obnoxious person who was like, You don’t want to wait too long! There’s never a perfect time to start trying to have kids. You should just do it now. I had a family member who’d waited a little bit too long to have children. She did three or four rounds of IVF that didn’t work. I remember visiting her when she was in the middle of one of her treatment cycles, watching her inject her hormones, and she was like, “Don’t wait too long. You don’t want to be in this position. It just sucks.”

I come from a very family-oriented culture that is even less open about discussing women’s health than society at large. I had to deal with a lot of aunties coming up to me at parties asking when we were planning on having a baby. Also, as a woman of color, I feel like the expectation is that you’re just naturally super fertile — and if you’re not, you’re certainly not talking about it. My extremely Catholic mother had trouble accepting the fact that I was undergoing fertility treatments.

Because I was so open about my attitude on having kids, everyone pretty much knew we were going to start trying for a baby sooner rather than later. To me, it felt a little bit like karma — I was that annoying friend who was warning people about their fertility. Then I was the person who wound up being infertile.

On starting to worry. For the first few months, I told myself, Oh, okay, it’s just not happening right away. Then I started Googling. It’s a very slippery slope from there to full-on infertility hysteria. I was reading all these statistics — about 90 percent of pregnancies happen in the first six months of trying. By three months, I decided to cut out alcohol. Then I tried a dairy-free diet. Every time I got my period, I’d be like, Okay, what can I try this time? What can I do to really up my chances?

By the time I got to six months, I was due for my annual exam. When the doctor asked me if there was anything I wanted to talk about, I just burst into tears and told him I’d been trying to get pregnant.

When we hit the one-year mark of trying, I went to the specialist my regular doctor referred me to. They did a lot of blood tests, looking for genetic abnormalities that might make it harder to get pregnant. I was so young. There was no reason — my periods were regular; I’m healthy — that I shouldn’t have gotten pregnant.

On learning how hard it can be to get pregnant. The specialist recommended insemination first. If that didn’t work, we’d move to IVF. That gave me a sense of relief; there was a plan of action. I don’t remember if I asked or if she offered up the information, but she explained that doing this would take our chances of conceiving up to 15 percent. I was like, “15 percent?! Are you kidding me?” And she told me that without intervention, the chances were only 5 percent.

It’s really hard to get pregnant. When you’re in high school, you think that if a boy sneezes on you, you’re pregnant. But it’s not easy — there are only like three or four days out of the whole month when you’re able to get pregnant. And during those three or four days, your chances aren’t even that high. So that makes the chances of conception during the rest of the month basically zero.

What I’ve learned from this whole experience is that women’s health is so understudied. No one could tell me what was wrong. When I started doing research, on pretty reputable internet sources, everything I read was like, We don’t know exactly how these drugs work — we don’t even know how conception works really. But you know — trust us with your body, your sanity, your checkbook. You have no choice, so you’re just like, okay, sure.

On feeling alone. The more time went on, the less I talked about trying to get pregnant. There were people around me who were getting pregnant, people around me who were having babies. I slowly just felt more and more isolated. I didn’t really know anyone who was dealing with this, especially at my age. I started seeing a therapist, who really helped me to see this as a temporary situation. I wouldn’t always be childless — the treatment might work, my life would go on.

But it was really hard, during those months. People would say things like, “Don’t be so stressed out. Stress isn’t helpful.” One thing my therapist told me that really helped was, stress doesn’t cause infertility. Infertility causes stress.

There was also the fact that I’m a woman of color. I think a lot of people who hear IVF think “rich white lady,” but that’s not me. I was also a lot younger than the other women in the waiting room. I stood out, for both of those reasons. I didn’t find many people in real life or in fiction that I could relate to.

On difficult choices. We decided to do genetic testing on the embryos. Since I was so young, they thought there might be a quality problem with my eggs that was interfering with conceiving. But all the embryos came back normal, and now we have all these extra ones in the freezer. I have to figure out what to do about that.

The first time I brought it up, my husband was like, “Oh, we’ll just donate them to science.” And I was like, “What! These could be our children. What is wrong with you?” We want to have more children, at least one more, if not two. I don’t know what to do about our embryos. There’s something called compassionate disposal — the embryos are implanted in during a time you can’t get pregnant, and “die” a natural death. To me, that’s not so different from defrosting them and letting them expire that way. But I guess for some people, it makes them feel like a more active participant.

On relaxing into pregnancy. Once we had the embryos created and tested, everything went very smoothly. Our first transfer was successful. Once we had a heartbeat, I suddenly felt like I could relax and have a normal pregnancy. We went on trips; I had a baby shower; did prenatal yoga. I ate lots of ice cream. It was totally normal.

Society does take possession of pregnant women’s bodies, but they don’t really care how the pregnancy happened. People are just like, Yay, you’re propagating the species! Now let me rub your belly or give you a tip. I think under normal circumstances, I would have found that kind of attention very annoying. But I was just so happy to be pregnant that I was like,”Okay, sure, guys. Rub my belly. That’s fine.”

On giving birth and shifted expectations. It was a Wednesday night. I remember because I watched The Americans and then started feeling contractions. I called my doula, and she was like, “Awesome, we’ll have a baby by this time tomorrow.” I went to sleep, and an hour later I woke up in excruciating pain. I thought I was going to die. It made me wonder why more women in labor don’t kill themselves, it was so bad.

I was on my hands and knees; I was vomiting everywhere. My baby was facing the wrong way — she was what they call “sunny-side up,” meaning she was facing out instead of in toward my spine. This causes back labor, and it was the worst pain of my life.

By the time my doula came over, I was just thinking about making it to the hospital to get an epidural. I had been planning on having a natural labor, but I was one of those people who wanted to see how it went; I wasn’t going to be disappointed in myself if I got an epidural. I think you have to be really committed to natural labor. You have to want it. I did want it, but I wasn’t emotionally attached to the idea.

We got stuck in traffic on the way to the hospital. It was Thursday-morning rush-hour traffic in New York City. And once we finally made it to the hospital, they didn’t have a room for me. I had to labor in the waiting room for about an hour. Then I was on a stretcher in the hallway for another hour. You can’t have an epidural until you’re in a real room — after I finally got a room and had the epidural, I apologized to everyone who’d been around me. I was like, “I’m not usually like this.”

But then my labor didn’t progress for 12 hours, and I ended up having a C-section. Sometimes I’m a little disappointed that I never had the experience of pushing, seeing my baby be born, having her be put on my chest. I always say, she came in by science, she came out by science. I’m totally okay with that.

The Mom Who Found Out How Hard It Is to Get Pregnant