I remember thinking how odd the light outside was the afternoon I went to Planned Parenthood, like everything was bathed in black light. It was Tuesday, November 10th, so the days were much shorter, but the addition of cold rain dimmed what little light remained at 4 o’clock. This was my first visit to the clinic and the rain should have dampened my spirits as it had done to the fall sky, but it hadn’t. I had thought long and hard about what I was about to do, and I knew I was making the right decision; many people in my situation would disagree with my actions, but that didn’t matter because this was my body and my life. I was ready for my procedure, ready to build a life without this burden, ready to take out my IUD.
That was two years ago, back in 2015, and I was living in Raleigh, North Carolina. The previous week I had realized I didn’t want to continue my ho-hum life as I knew it and I had these things called life goals, one of them having children. Sure, I wasn’t dating anyone at the time so there was no need to celebrate this momentous occasion, but I couldn’t resist congratulating myself on this symbolic gesture: I was serious about moving forward with parenthood.
But a year came and went after removing my IUD and I was no closer to parenthood than I was with that damn copper contraption stuffed in my uterus. Bored and lonely, I made another bold move and left my life as I knew it in the US for Sweden, feeling a strong urge to have children and build a life there. But a few months after arriving in Sweden, things began falling apart when getting a job turned out to be harder than I imagined and the only way to stay in the country beyond my 90-day tourist visa was to find a Swedish guy. Which is funny, because I had been seeing a local guy and sort of liked him. Yes, he was as bland as undercooked IKEA meatballs, but he was stable and secure and I felt comfortable with him. We made a ton of passionate love for a month, all unprotected, and we never discussed contraceptives; I felt like I had hit the jackpot. I really hoped I’d get pregnant and we’d live together in Sweden with our blond children and ride our bikes around town all day. But reality has a funny way of blowing fantasy worlds to bits, because at 90 days I left Sweden alone, broken, and disappointed.
That December, with the drumbeat of motherhood growing louder, I went to a fertility specialist in Germany who told me – in so many words – that I have an over-active something and I only had a year or so before my fertile window closed. I was devastated to hear this news because until that moment, I’d felt invincible to fertility issues. I thought that since I was 35, healthy, and taking charge of the situation, I’d have no issues getting pregnant. Walking out of the doctor’s office, I felt like I was watching the footage of a horrible event unfold in slow motion, with that horrible event being a life of crushing solitude and boredom.
When April arrived and I grew tired of waiting around for who knows what, I took matters into my own hands and started actively trying to get pregnant with informal sperm donors and fertility treatments (the experiences I’ve shared here). And just as I gained a foothold in the process of getting pregnant, just as I felt I could manage the constant stress on my body and mind, just when I thought conceiving my own child was inches away… I lost it all.
I arrived in Madrid, Spain, excited to stay three months and even apply for residency if everything went according to “my plan.” One of the main reasons I came here is because fertility doctors treat single women, and I had 3-4 cycles to work with. I felt grateful for this opportunity to stay in a place for longer than one cycle and in a country where prices for fertility treatments seemed reasonable. Things were coming together and I tasted stability; I envisioned having success and building a life in Spain, convincing myself that this new plan was much more realistic than my Sweden one. But within a week of arriving I realized residency dreams were a bit more complicated than I first envisioned. That was okay, though, because I’d found a great fertility clinic that I felt comfortable with. At least I had a shot at getting pregnant while in Spain, right?
In my first appointment with the Madrid clinic, I was ovulating but the doctors determined it wasn’t “strong” enough to do an IUI this cycle. I was disappointed at this news – my anxiety has been on overdrive since starting this process and I desperately wanted to take advantage of every cycle left in my waning fertility – but the doctors were hopeful that the next cycle would be more successful. So, after a few weeks and the start of another period, I began a follistim fertility treatment. Essentially, this means taking follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) shots and pills in the week leading up to ovulation and one special shot (Ovitrelle 250) the night before. The UIU was followed by week of twice-daily progesterone tablets taken vaginally (what a mess!), hormone pills whose symptoms match those of early pregnancy. A mere day after receiving the treatment – which fortunately was uneventful and went smoothly – my breasts were swollen and sore and I felt like I hadn’t slept in days. Could I be pregnant? Yes, I knew it was scientifically impossible to get pregnant so fast and exhibit signs, yet I couldn’t help but glow a bit at the thought of being pregnant. Which brings me back to the question: was I pregnant?!?
Total spent on artificial insemination treatment in Spain, summer 2017
$356.45 (300 €) – various (6?) doctor’s appointments & ultrasounds
$356.45 (300 €) – insemination procedure
$130.70 (110 €) – preparation of sperm sample
$415.86 (350 €) – sperm sample
$54.16 (46 €) – two blood tests
$57.80 (49 €) – Ovitrelle 250 injection
(The doctors at the Madrid clinic generously provided me with a full supply of progesterone pills and an Ovaleap pen at no cost, so muchas gracias to them for that.)
Fourteen days and a bazillion negative pregnancy tests later, I stopped taking the progesterone pills holding back my period. Thick red blood stained my underwear; I have never had such a strong period. I took the confirmation of my non-pregnancy hard, walking around in a daze for a few days. At least I could drink alcohol again and briefly forget the emptiness inside of me. Doctors at the clinic were eager to talk about treatments going forward and I hesitated before hearing them out, and after a few minutes I got lost in their complicated diagrams and steps (see below). With just a month left as a tourist in Spain, they suggested I return to the US for three months (not gonna happen) to start the procedure and return to Spain for another three months to finish the procedure; that’s more than five months! In addition to the cost — at least $7,000 plus $1,200 for drugs, see below– and stress on my body, I was extremely wary of going forward. Despite having the money, I was mentally and physically exhausted from the past few months and I couldn’t imagine going through it all again, especially if the success rate was only 25-30%. If I did all of that work and got a negative pregnancy test result, I shudder to think of how I’d react; I’m barely holding myself together as it is.
So, I was back to square one, maybe even further back than square one. I was having no luck getting pregnant through fertility treatments or with a partner and prospects weren’t looking good for either. I was consumed with loneliness and disappointment and heartache and physical discomfort that I was ready to explode. My depression and anxiety had taken over so I questioned how long I could handle a life like this. Where do I go from here, I asked myself. Where the fuck do I go from here?