Figuring out when to stop: a couple's struggle with infertility

September 23 | Guest post by Diane
a couples struggle with infertility
Photo by Brook Rieman Photography

My relationship with my husband has been one difficult decision after another. It started as a summer fling, racing sailboats together the year after his painful divorce. I was already in my 30s, and knew I wanted kids of my own. He was sure he didn't want to put himself in a position where he could be as hurt as he was by his former marriage, so he didn't like the idea of marriage.

He also really didn't like the idea of adding more children to the two he has. In the end, he made the decision to marry me and have his vasectomy reversed. I chose to marry the man I love, to become a step-mother to two fantastic kids, to help my husband battle his demons, and take my chances that his surgery would be a success.

And it was a success! At least, temporarily. For the next year and a half we tried to get me pregnant: from Fertility Awareness to intra-uterine insemination (IUI), from acupuncture to Clomid, and nothing happened. After a 6 month stint of trying naturally, we decided to try IUI again. I was to go in 90 minutes after my husband's appointment, but got the phone call just as I was leaving the house: "There's nothing moving. There are a few sperm, but it's a very low count, and they're not motile. Can your husband come back in to try again?"

Over the next few weeks we learned that my husband's reversal had reversed on itself – scar tissue had likely formed and his body had re-instated the vasectomy, like it or not. What to do now? The doctor gave us several options, but the only possibility left for having children that biologically came from the two of us was in-vitro fertilization (IVF).

How far down this road can we go? We know this could get very expensive, very quickly, and we just don't have the savings to pay for this more than once. Should one of us try to find a new job at one of the very, very few local companies that have insurance to cover an IVF cycle? Should we consider donor sperm? Should we wait, and save money before proceeding, playing roulette with my ever-ticking, 38 year old biological clock?

I don't consider not having children of my own to raise an option that I want to think about, regardless of whether they're adopted or come from donor sperm. I know that my husband has struggled with this. We both worry about the finances, about the effect more children could have on my step-kids, and about the heartbreak of deciding when to give up on this dream, and move on with our lives.

Is it something I would regret forever if it didn't happen, if we didn't go into debt to try to make it happen? Could I convince myself to be content with being a step-mom, seeing the kids every other weekend, and continue to enjoy the family I already have, right under my nose? My step-kids are so wonderful, I almost feel guilty that they aren't enough for me. Being a step-mother is very fulfilling and challenging, requiring diplomacy and plenty of TLC, almost like being a real parent…but not quite.

I worry that our most difficult decision is yet to come – we are fortunate enough to afford two IVF cycles (they sell them in sets of two cycles), but I know we'll be crushed if it's not successful for us right away, and I'm not sure how we'll know when it's time to stop.

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  1. I am so sorry for you and any one else who has to live through infertility. We've have been through tests and treatment for 3 years and have suffered 1 miscarriage. Knowing when to stop is a tough call. It took me a long time to switch form "Babies?!? NEVER!"to wanting them. Part of that decision for me is the desire to pass along my knowledge to younger kids. If I we are not able to have kids, we won't be adopting. But I would like to fulfill my desire to pass on knowledge by mentoring kids or leading a girl scout group or something similar. It's good to think about why you want kids in the first place and see if there's another way to approach it.

  2. Congratulations on the wonderful family you already have. I can feel all the love you have and others have for you. But i also understand your needs. I also married a father of two and when we decided to have a kid I knew that things were going to be hard. But my assurance was the love we had for each other. And that is why im writing to you, because as silly as it sounds, I feel that your love will conquer all. Its great to see that you are in this strugle together and that you both share dreams and projects. Thats true love and that will be your support whether things go right or wrong. Have faith. You already have the love.

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  3. Um .. thank you! I am totally a lurker here because I'm not like everyone else. My husband had "they surgery" when he was only 25 … and with his ex. When we met, he told me that he never wanted another child (he had 1 boy already) … 8 years later he asked me to be his wife and the mother of his children. We had the reversal surgery done in January … we spend every month dreaming and crossing our fingers. He has low numbers too … the doctor thinks that we may have caught it in time and he is going to start on an 8 week cycle of super strong anti inflams …

    Very few people understand that we can't just "start trying" like our friends. It had to be a more serious, medical and very expensive decision. It takes everything I have some days to not react to those women around me complaining that 'it was an accident' or 'it happened the first time' or even my mom who keeps telling me it only took her three weeks.

    I'm sure my tune will change when we are out of this stage of trying … But, you are not alone … I'm out here too … and for what its worth with the fertility gods, I have my fingers crossed for you guys!

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  4. I think there is something in the depth of some women's souls that do not allow them to ever give up on the possibility of having their own babies to raise as they imagine they would. I think it's a passionate fire to mother, and although you are already mothering two little ones – you have something inside of you needing your "own" baby. You are not selfish or crazy or anything… you're just a woman and a mother.

    You will know when it's time to stop. It's going to be when you aren't questioning it any more. It will just happen one day. Have faith in your incredible instinct and good luck to you.

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  5. Whoah. I knew I had to stop and comment when I read this. I'm 35, my husband 42, and I'm the stepmom of two wonderful kids. We are in the 2nd month past his reversal (we used our savings for that, incidentally…) So we're currently doing fertility awareness and I'm charting like a madwoman and hoping. His vasectomy reversal surgeon said "if you're not pregnant within 4 months…" and I'm really just hoping and praying it doesn't come to that. But I have to be realistic.

    I hope you write again here about your journey. It's one that I might well find myself on, so having someone a little further down the path with a clear voice would be so helpful…

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  6. I am 27 and have been struggling with infertility for two years. I decided when I was 18 that I wanted a kid by the time I was 25 so I wasn't "too old" to enjoy them, which is silly, I know. (My grandmother was 40 when she had my mom and she said her number one regret in life was having children so late, so the guilt runs deep.) My oldest sister tried for ten years and had to give up her dream of a biological child at 38 with a hysterectomy, which crushed her. My other sister got prego the first time she tried at 33. What with trying for so long, both naturally and medically (everything short of IVF), I'm beginning to wonder if I actually even WANT one. I'm worn down from keeping it a secret and avoiding people's questions (like my procreation is their business anyway!). Never thought I'd get cyincal like this, but maybe I'm just meant to make art instead of humans.

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  7. As a young woman who was told that I would be infertile or at very least have extremely low fertility. It is a huge decision, the biggest I'll probably make when I embark on what I can only assume will be quite the journey when my wife and I are financially able. I feel guilty because there's a perfectly wonderful womb in our relationship and I want to try with mine. I'm swallowing the guilt now because it's easier to deal with guilt now than regret the rest of my life.

    Don't feel judged. You have to live in your own skin longer than anyone else. Know what you feel-regardless of the guilt you might have. It's alright to want, and to try for your own children. But for your sanity, and for your partner, you should set aside a "Just in case these two cycles don't take…" time to think and re-evaluate. No decision about what happens in a year and a half or however long. Just a commitment to communicate openly at that time and devote yourself to understanding your options and your partner's feelings.

    Good luck. There's a lot of support out there for the sub-fertile and it's really good to go seek it out.

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  8. Thank you for sharing this. My husband is older than me, with two great children and a vasectomy, and we often have discussion on what if or how, regarding children.
    I often feel SO SO SO alone (most of my friends my age are having kids of their own, no stepkids, etc….so no concept of what I'm going through), so it's nice to know I'm not

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  9. I am a lurker that had to chime in as well. When I was 22, I married a 42 year old that had a vasectomy in his early 20's. He knew that I was adamant about having at least one child and we blindly figured we would work it out. Fairly quickly we learned a reversal would be a long shot because of the long amount of time that had elapsed, and were also advised that IVF would be even harder and more expensive. I fretted for 8 years about what to do.

    I am 6 months pregnant with a son now. We finally decided to ask my husband's brother to be the donor. I always wanted to experience pregnancy, and I eventually came to the conclusion that I wanted to use someone in my husband's family. He chose to ask his brother, and he very willingly obliged.

    There is no doubt it was awkward, and no doubt there will be awkward moments ahead. All of us are very happy, and we are all committed to doing right by this baby. I wrote the whole story out, thinking someday I would submit it to Offbeatmama…

    Good luck! I know how it feels, those 8 years were TOUGH!

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    • This was our experience, too. My husband had cancer in his early 20s, and that knocked out his fertility. We ended up having his brother be our donor, and we have a beautiful daughter now.

      My advice to those going through fertility treatments is to strive hard to keep your intimacy with each other, because the medical processes are so cold and impersonal. Try to connect physically with one another during the treatments, and make love on days you know you won't get pregnant. Try to keep the focus on one another, rather than "Will it work". It's easier said than done, but critical to your future relationship.

  10. After conceiving my daughter with the help of Clomid, we soon learned after that it was a total miracle and the hope of another child someday was next to nothing. We too took the chance, put ourselves in debt of a great amount to afford the medications and IVF procedure itself. We had one shot because we simply could not afford to do it again. My entire existence seemed to be riding on this shot of being a mom again. It was the darkest hole I had ever been in and I hit rock bottom. I prayed and prayed for just one more blessing and by a miracle our IVF took on the first try…with twins. I hope that sharing my story will give you encouragement and positive thoughts as you embark into IVF and know that even in the toughest situations, miracles happen. I'm sending you well wishes and lots of hope!!!

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  11. I just started reading this book called The Fertile Female, by Julia Indichova. It's a little foofy and hippy-dippy, but if you're the kind of person who likes guided imagery it has a LOT of good stuff on figuring out your own truth about what you want in terms of trying or not trying. (She does also have a lot of stories that end with "and two months later she was pregnant" so if you hate those kind of stories you might not want to read the book. But a good proportion of her stories do instead end with "and two months later their sex life was much more fun" or "and a year later they have a beautiful adopted son", which is nice.)

  12. Hello all – I wrote this bit without much thought for the response it would get and just want to thank everyone for all of your supportive comments! I'm enjoying reading them and looking forward to the adventure of IVF next month. Thanks for the encouragement!

    • Hi Diane,

      I had to leave a note to say THANK YOU for writing this.

      I'm 39 years old, and hubby and I have been trying for almost two years, with no success, even after 6 mos of Clomid. I was treated for endometriosis last year, and we're now going to be finding out what our options are in a couple of weeks after hubby's test results come in. So it could be IUI or IVF – we don't know. It's scary and intimidating, especially when success rates are tossed around for our age range. But we want to be parents and want to give it a solid try.

      I wish I was fortunate enough to have step-kids to enjoy like you do. 🙂

      At any rate, I'm going to be thinking good thoughts for you, and I hope you'll post an update as you go through all this.

  13. I've never had to struggle with infertility so I wont pretend to know what you are going through, I just wanted to say that you sound like an amazing loving person, a fantastic stepmother and I hope you are able to be a mother to your own children in the future. Good luck.

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  14. Long-time lurker from OffbeatBride.

    I am not a mother, and I never will be one. I am infertile. Growing up, I didn't want kids, then I met my husband, decided we may as well have kids because everyone else was procreating, then I found out I was infertile. It wasn't pretty because I felt like the choice to have a child had been 'stolen' from me.

    Now, two years later, I am completely fine with it, and I accepted that I wasn't going to have kids and "got over it" about 6 months after diagnosis. I will never have a child, and I am OK with it. I know there are so many other options out there, and so many opportunities to undertake – having a baby and being a mother is just one of these opportunities, and it really isn't a be all and end all.

    What was surprising for me was the fact that other people were angry with me for accepting my infertility – especially without the sad face that was supposed to accompany this news. Mothers, non-mothers and all sorts of people. But the people that were the most angriest with me were other infertile women who were still trying to have children via other methods. And also the lack of support websites out there – you input infertile support and you get sites that give options for conceiving or anti-children sites. I've had to deal with this alone and with a lot of angry people.

    My point: when and if you do decide to accept your infertility, don't allow it to define you.

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    • Growing up I was always in the "I can't imagine life without children" camp. Absolutely, never thought twice about it.

      When I was in my mid 20's I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome which I incorrectly interpreted as meaning I was infertile. At the time I was devastated but it was the catalyst I needed to pay attention to the rest of my life. As I slowly got things together and the rest of my life began to take shape I did more research and discovered that PCOS was not quite the infertile state I thought it was but given my erratic cycle I'd probably need some help. By this time though I had been able to let go of what I thought I could never live without, deciding that if I met a partner who wanted children and would carry them (I'm gay) then great, if not that's fine too.

      Fast forward a few more years and I am happily partnered, getting married next year and planning a hysterectomy. As it turns out the painful periods were due to endometriosis (only diagnosed this year) and it's got beyond a joke now. My partner and I are happy happy aunts and its really enough. Thankfully having dealt with the feelings about kids earlier made the hysterectomy decision not easy but certainly easier than it could have been.

      So somehow I've swung in and out of wanting kids with my entire being and in and out of windows of possibility for it. I've reached the end now and I have to say I'm profoundly relieved I no longer have any choice in all this. It would have been great but like so would so many other things I thought I wanted with every fibre but didn't get, it's been ok that it didn't happen. So I'm happy with my decision but there is a little bit of me that will always be sad, people do seem to have trouble with that though and see it as regret or not being sure . I just think there are some things you feel more than one way about…

      Whilst I never got as far as trying, something about the original post spoke to me, something about the difficulty in having to decide yourself when to give up in the face of increased difficulty as opposed to having no choice but to deal with a unilateral it's not possible. I have to say when I misinterpreted my PCOS as a unilateral it's not possible it was harsh but less conflicted than than the period after that when it was possible but difficult. For me (and not necessarily meant as advice) there was a lot of peace in giving up choice, in saying, I leave this to fate it's about whether or not I meet the right partner.

      Good luck with it all, whichever way things go for you, you will be ok, it will just be a different picture than any you could have imagined.

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  15. Hi ladies,
    Another lurker from Offbeat Bride, about to marry a loverly older man with a daughter and a vasectomy – are any of you from Seattle? Can you tell me anything about your partners' vasectomy reversals – what doctor you used, how much it cost, etc? We are embarking on that journey ourselves…we've even thought of going to Thailand or India to have it done for cheaper! Any info would be most appreciated.

    • Hi there – I'm the original poster above, and we're in Seattle. We went to SRM for the vasectomy reversal, and it cost around $6K, I think. Not to scare anyone, but it's a much more complicated and painful procedure than the other direction – buy a lot of ice packs and take several days off work. Good luck!

  16. We ended up traveling all the way to AZ (ICVR – http://dadsagain.com/)to have ours done. He said he was only doing it once so we went for the best we found … and these guys are awesome! They are a little more expensive but the operate on professional athletes, etc … plus, their follow up is awesome and personal. The require sample tests done periodically in the following months … one of those tests caught a little late swelling and they were able to send a prescription to fix it … like 6 months later. I believe its an all-in cost too.

    I can vouch for how awesome they are … and how it worked (currently 5 months pregnant) … yay!

  17. Hi guys
    I cant believe i came across this article right now!offbeat bride has been like my bible for 2 years up to my wedding and even now after my wedding i love browsing-and i came across offbeat mama.thought i'd take a gander-wasnt expecting to find infertility issues on here. I think its great that they do talk about this subject too. And i say funny that i come across this right now as me & hubs are embarking on our ivf journey right now! I have 3 step kids from my hubs prev marriage all of whom i love dearly but there are boundaries you cant cross although you want to. He had his vasectomy reversed dec 09 and was initially successful-we were filled with hope and decided to let it happen naturally-however jan 11 came around and we decided we'd better see if there was anything wrong-got hubby retested and the reversal had reversed and scarring had occurred.Devastated! We are so angry that our hospital didnt emphasise the need more to get any frozen and didnt follow anything up or suggest retests a couple of months later-we were totally abandoned by them.We went to our gp off our own back. So here we are-about to start ivf treatment next month-I'm egg sharing to reduce the cost and help out other lovely ladies become mums. I would say to anyone who has had a vasectomy reversal-think about freezing any sperm straight away and ask for retests if you want them-dont leave it like we did.all the very best to all of you who are also trying-lets hope we get lots of luck xx

  18. It must have been about 6 years ago that I wrote this. A little follow-up: our second round of IVF worked and we now have a 4.5 year old wonderful, crazy, energetic son 🙂 It doesn't happen for everyone, but I'm ever so grateful it did for us.

    1 agrees

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