The Infertility Instruction Manual


Last month our elliptical trainer arrived in a giant box, large enough to fit three or four full grown adults. Together my partner and I moved the bulky machinery, piece by hulking piece, up the stairs into the back bedroom. When all the myriad pieces were strewn around us we got out the manual and started the painstaking work of putting it together.

It was difficult, and complicated, and sometimes frustrating, but the directions were clear enough and after three hours of placing parts, connecting wires and tightening screws, we had a working elliptical trainer. We had overcome the challenge of putting together a very complicated machine. We had persevered.

When we got our initial diagnoses of both male- and female- factor infertility, I immediately started doing research on both MFI and diminished ovarian reserve, trying to figure out what we should do to overcome this horrible challenge in baby making. It became clear pretty quickly that there was no Infertility Manual out there with an complete index of the answers I sought. Actually, that is not entirely true. There are plenty of Infertility Manuals available but each one is different and it’s impossible to know which one is right for you.

That is the thing really, with infertility, in the end you have to write your own Infertility Manual because each couple is unique. Not only do diagnoses vary, but so do other factors such as insurance coverage, financial constraints and willingness (and ability) to pursue treatments or adoption. Couples also need to take into considerations the mental health of each partner plus the stamina of the couple, how much support is available from friends and family, along with myriad other factors. In the end, each couple’s Infertility Manual–the instructions they will follow in an attempt to build their family–will look different.

When we first found out we were infertile, I felt like I was sitting amidst a thousand unrecognizable pieces and I was supposed to figure out how to make them into our dreamed of family. Except there was no instruction manual and I had no idea how to begin, or what I was building was even meant to resemble. With each test result, our appointent with the RE and extensive research, I managed the painstaking work of outlining, and then writing our Instruction Manual. It is still in rough draft form, but at least now, it exists.

Our Instruction Manual is right for us. It is written with our restrictions–both physical and financial– in mind. There are some chapters we cannot include in our Infertility Manual; we simply do not have the resources to pursue the treatments that others have the chance to purse. Our Infertility Manual is thin, almost bare, in its simplicity. It includes the few courses of action that we can manage, and omits most of the bulk of the myriad medical protocols contained in other people’s manuals.

I will admit, there are times I resent the limitations of our Infertility Manual. There are times I have no faith that we can build the family of our dreams with the meager set of instructions we’re allowed to follow. When I read of other’s successes, achieved with treatments that we can’t access, I feel anger and bitterness–not towards the person or what they can have, but toward the unfair system that makes it impossible for us to have the same chance at that happiness.

Conversely, there are moments I am relieved that so many chapters have been omitted from our Infertility Manual because I know how hard it would be to follow those instructions, the mental and emotional anguish of putting your body through such rigorous treatments and draining your bank account in the process. Sometimes it’s a relief to realize that we will never have to make the hard decisions about whether we should add the chapter on the fifth IVF attempt to our Infertility Manual, because we can never pursue even a first attempt.

For most people having a baby is a ridiculously simple task. Their manual is a half page with simple pictures: a simple children’s table from IKEA, with all the parts included, ready to assemble. For those of us with infertility, our family building box arrives with most of key pieces missing. We supposed to tighten the screws but none of the normal tools will do the job. Entire pieces are missing and we’re forced to pay someone exorbitant amounts of money to fashion a similar piece to take the place of that which was supposed to be included. Our Manuals are incomplete and we have to write them ourselves, over time, using trial and error to fill in the blank pages. It’s a long and arduous process and it’s so frustrating to see how easy it was for everyone to assemble the family of their dreams, while we’re left fumbling with a thousand parts that can’t be put together.

I hope our sparse Infertility Manual and Family Building Box have enough for us to build the family of our dreams, or that we discover in ourselves the ingenuity required to build that dream family despite what our package lacks.

4 responses

  1. I like this analogy. I sometimes feel like I chuck out the manual we’ve written, start a new one, then go back to the first one, because hey! Why not? Then get discouraged and start another one again.

  2. Love this analogy. And it fits for other things, too … diseases like cancer, or depression, or relationship issues. For that matter, I wish LIFE came with an instruction manual. And yet, we write it one day at a time, because we have no other choice. You are a good writer, E. … and you’ll write the difficult parts with as much grace as you can. We will continue to read it, and abide with you.

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